Good Day For America’s Checks And Balances Continues With Strong Rebuke To Donald Trump Wednesday Evening

Late Wednesday evening we witnessed another sign that our nation’s checks and balances continue to work. I take note of such events as they are lifting moments in our troubling times when we witness fascism rising while an autocrat makes threats about violence being unleashed in the nation if he is brought to justice.  

Throughout the day we saw the efforts of law and order rise up and make a clarion statement that this nation does not kneel to such blackmail. New York Attorney General Letitia James took action to bar Donald Trump and his children from ever again running a business in New York State. She filed a lawsuit that claims the Trump family and their business overvalued assets by billions of dollars and with the proof of Trump’s annual financial statements showcased at least a decade of absurd myth-making while defrauding banks and insurance companies.  

Late in the evening, a federal appeals court handed down a blistering ruling that unleashed the Justice Department so to rightly resume using documents marked as classified that were seized from Donald Trump in the FBI search. In so doing, the ruling undoes a lower court’s order that had strictly limited the investigation into Trump’s handling of highly classified government materials.  The 11th Circuit set aside key parts of an earlier order by a Florida federal judge that had kept the department from using about 100 files that Trump illegally retained. 

The three-judge panel wrote in their opinion, “For our part, we cannot discern why Plaintiff would have an individual interest in or need for any of the one-hundred documents with classification markings.” 

What strikes me of great interest is that the panel in this ruling found particularly unpersuasive the repeated suggestions by Trump’s legal team that he may have declassified the documents. But note that when earlier pressed by the special master, Raymond Dearie, those lawyers would not say very much in court if Trump had acted to declassify the materials in question.  They know better than to lie during a court proceeding.  

So tonight, the federal court lowered the boom on Trump.  “Plaintiff suggests that he may have declassified these documents when he was President. But the record contains no evidence that any of these records were declassified. And before the special master, Plaintiff resisted providing any evidence that he had declassified any of these documents,” the panel wrote. “In any event, at least for these purposes, the declassification argument is a red herring because declassifying an official document would not change its content or render it personal.” 

We have come to a point in our nation where the legal process and the application of the rule of law will be required to be used energetically to ensure the nation remains a democracy.  This blog has often opined on the drift away from our nation’s ideals and the Framers’ construct during the Trump term—our nation’s most embarrassing fiasco since the days of Richard Nixon. (And let us be frank and term Dick a piker in comparison.) Today, however, was a fine example of what the law can and will do to right the ship that has drifted and tilted dangerously.  In so doing, it allows us a strong ray of hope about the future of this country.

What Happens On July 5th?

1974 Senate Minority Leader Hugh Scott, Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Ariz., U.S. House Minority Leader John Rhodes, Republic File photo

Last month in New Lisbon, Wisconsin a retired judge was shot and killed at his home by a gunman with a list targeting several judicial members, along with the governor of Michigan.  In June, Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was threatened by an armed man outside his home. The far-right groups that stormed the U.S. Capitol in 2021 are another serious reflection of a growing threat to democracy.

During the July 4th holiday period it is customary for people to take stock of how the nation was founded, and be reminded of the guiding principles of our country. While that occurred again this year there was a far more obvious conversation taking place which results from a deeply dismaying mood as the citizenry looks down the road. Given the growing details about the January 6th insurrection at the nation’s Capitol and the far-right lurch of the Supreme Court, once a body considered the objective arbiter for an anxious country, the public is on edge, questioning, and most uncertain regarding what events will follow.

Each chapter of our national story is unique, but with each one history proves a united front must develop and present itself for the best interests of the people. In June, we observed the 50th anniversary of the Watergate break-in. With some of that news coverage, we were reminded that Republican Senators Barry Goldwater, John Rhodes, and Hugh Scott told President Nixon that he would be impeached, convicted, and removed from office, and in so doing, while not asking Nixon to resign, painted a full picture of what would follow if he did not.

That important example from the past should be seen as what our nation now requires.

The citizenry is now reeling from a sweeping set of decisions that were ideologically ruled by the Court in the past two weeks. A decision relaxed gun laws in a nation that is brimming with roughly 390 million of them, another allowed religious schools that openly discriminate against gay and transgender students to be allowed state funding, and then the scorched-earth ruling that overturned a 50-year precedent that ended a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion.

While the Court was making numerous moves that ran counter to modern society and neglected to strive for working with a living Constitution, people were watching and reading more about the January 6th attack on democracy. The erratic and autocratic moves of Donald Trump are coming to light as the House Committee proceeds with hearings, providing more insight into his strong desire to head to the Capitol and join the violent throng he had incited.

This is a time, given the threats to democracy along with increasing political violence, as witnessed in New Lisbon, when the leadership class from both political parties should be united in a common cause and speak to the nation. There is a genuine need for comity and some mature guidance about how this nation moves forward. Together.

Instead of a much-needed national conversation, however, we are mired in a political mess where the base of the Republican Party is wedded to conspiracy theories, and their elected leaders are too timid to speak truthfully, for fear of retribution from within the GOP. Even when it was made known Trump knew his supporters were toting deadly weapons on January 6th, and still wanted to turn off the devices that would alert law enforcement of those guns and knives, there was an almost complete hush from Republicans over the grave threat such weapons posed.

Perhaps the boldest and most audacious outrage occurred when Trump pleaded, as we know from a 2020 audio recording, for Georgia’s Republican secretary of state to “find” him another 11,780 votes. Incredibly, almost no one on the Republican side of the aisle cared, objected, stood up, and said, “Enough!”

Recently, news reports from those close to Trump show that he is planning a run for the White House in 2024, and could announce his bid prior to this year’s mid-term elections. Even after all of the proven transgressions and absurd behavior exhibited by Trump, it is fair to say, based on polling, that between a third and half of Republicans would probably vote for him should his name appear on a ballot.

While it is assumed that there will be a strong competitive field for the GOP presidential primaries the question is if other contenders will mimic the boorish and dangerous behavior of Trump or elevate the conversation to what was considered the norm prior to 2015? At some point, it is imperative that the party re-establish guardrails on our political culture.

Why we need to have a citizenry rooted in facts, and our political class acting with maturity and reasonableness is based on the growing data that suggests violence based on partisan leanings is increasing. As I wrote at the start of this post a growing threat is gaining steam.

Six months ago it was reported a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll found about 1 in 3 Americans believe violence against the government can at times be justified. That is simply repugnant to anyone invested in the process of democracy.

That finding represented the largest share to feel that way since the question has been asked in various polls for more than two decades. The percentage of adults who say violence is justified is up, from 23 percent in 2015 and 16 percent in 2010 in polls by CBS News and the New York Times.

Who we are as Americans is as much a question as where we are heading as a nation. On the July 4th holiday we again consider what ideals we knew to have merit at the infancy of what would become America. The question now, however, is what we will do on July 5th to secure those ideals for a nation that is angry, fretful, and truly apprehensive.

What might Goldwater, Rhodes, and Scott do? And who will be the modern incarnation of them?

What Might Founding Fathers Say About Trump’s Seditious Conspiracy?

Those who lived in the 1970s surely felt that Watergate was the granddaddy of all political scandals. After all, a vast array of illegal activity that led back to the White House and into the Oval Office resulted in the resignation of President Richard Nixon. Many people after following the 2-plus years of news reporting and committee hearings about Watergate understandably felt there was no way a more sinister and underhanded person could be president.

Over the past week, large segments of the nation have been watching the January 6th House Committee hearings. What we are witnessing being fleshed out with testimony and facts is nothing short of stunning. After all that we have endured over the past six years, it might seem impossible to be confronted with anything that sets one further back on their heels. Even though the framework of illegal and unconstitutional actions by Donald Trump and those around him has long been known, having a congressional committee detail the actions was still very hard to stomach.

The nation is learning about the insidious and seemingly ever-sprawling plot to commit a seditious conspiracy against the United States. A duly elected president was to be tossed aside like a burger wrapper and Trump was to be installed as an illegal one. James Patterson could not plot a more devastating drama.

But what struck me to my core was learning Trump was so desperate to retain power and authority that he stated Vice President Mike Pence deserved to be murdered by the bloodthirsty mob at our nation’s Capitol. The reason Trump felt that way, of course, was that Pence refused to go along with sedition.

There is no doubt when it comes to political chicanery and illegal activities Nixon was a mere piker compared to the outlandish and outrageous actions plotted and undertaken by Trump. It seems almost unfair to place Nixon and Trump into the same editorial cartoons, such as those now being published as we near the 50th anniversary of the famed break-in.

From the night of the November 2020 election, Trump knew that his hold on power was ebbing away, and when the final count from several states, including Wisconsin, was reported no question remained he had lost his bid for reelection.

But rather than accept the election returns from the balloting by his fellow citizens he instead chose to become the first president in the history of our country to dishonor the peaceful transfer of power.

I want to stay on that point for a minute. I wonder what the Founding Fathers would say if they could be made aware of these events and able to be interviewed?

What might President George Washington, a former general who relinquished his military command, and stepped away from an office he was twice elected to so a civilian could take the reins of power have to say? What might James Madison, who history calls the Father of the Constitution, have to say about the blatant power grab and attempted usurpation of what we know as Madisonian democracy?

Ben Franklin, a journalist and newspaper owner, would surely have another line of inquiry.

On the day of a Jan. 6th committee hearing, with much of the nation following events, Fox News spent 45 minutes detailing a surgical procedure for Ozzy Osborne. The dismantling of the very fabric of our democracy was being detailed by members of congress and a major news outlet felt there was no need to inform their viewers as to the dangers faced by the nation.

Franklin, doubtless with a pithy tone, would demand to know why a news operation would willingly deflect from a story that cuts to the essence of our democracy?

Much of our nation is discussing the damning headlines about the plots and attacks on the very foundation of our constitutional government. It is easy to get inundated with the latest breaking news about this story. As such, I would hope that at some point we can, as a nation, reflect on the ideals the Founders sought for the nation. It is glaringly clear why our constitutional guardrails can no longer just be taken for granted.

Good History Reads For Your Springtime

I find myself in a really pleasant place with the current history books I am enjoying, and as often the case on Caffeinated Politics, wish to call them out for my readers. As usual, I have a number of books ‘underway’ at the same time, making it easy to pick up a chapter or two based on the mood of the day.

If you are looking for a book that is ‘timely’ and just well-constructed, then The Romanovs would be a grand idea. With the past few months of Russian military build-up and aggression, I have turned more attention to Russian history. (Russia has long been a region I love to read about.) An online friend gave me this book idea, and it is a very compelling read. As I write today Peter the Great has sent his half-sister, Sofia, far way—oh, to have such power (LOL). Simon Sebag Montefiore’s writing is excelled only by his research. Masterfully done on all counts! The narrative is tight yet expansive with tidbits and pacing of the kind I find to be superb. However, if you are squeamish about being thrown out a castle window onto a pike……

Thomas Jefferson: The Art Of Power was high up on my shelves for a number of years, just waiting to come down. Jon Meacham is a wonderful historian and writer, and while the Founders are a great interest of mine there always seemed to be another book that made for the ‘top of the pile’. The latest unnecessary dust-up over the naming of a Madison school was what brought out my footstool to reach up and start the book. I am to Part Five, 1785, and his journey to Europe as a diplomat. What attracts me now, as always to Jefferson and the whole of the Founders, is the ability to have ideals and yet know that pragmatic reasoning must be undertaken to achieve forward progress. History always bends towards modernity, then as now. Just never at the pace, we desire.

Prisoners of Geography is a short, and snappy around the world read with some background, that while not necessarily new information, is compacted and presented in such a way as to connect the ten maps that Tim Marshall presents.

For the meat of international relations, however, I head to the master. I find Henry Kissinger essential to understanding our world. Some revile him, and I understand that. But for pure realism about not only how the world is constructed with complex relationships but why that is so, there is no one better to explain it. Or pose the questions we need to ponder moving forward. One reviewer for World Order stated the book should be read by every new member of Congress. Presently am at The Multiplicity Of Asia, after Kissinger expounded on the irrationality that is present-day Iran.

Whatever book(s) you pick up to read…the main thing is to read books. I am troubled with too much of our world reading nothing more than what can be typed for a Twitter posting. The knowledge we need, the questions we should wish to be posed and answered, demand books in our lives.

Happy reading.

And so it goes.

Madison’s Thomas Jefferson Middle School Should Keep Name

It is truly sad that the totality of the work and life of Thomas Jefferson in the Madison School District can be summed up by his holding of slaves. Though my classroom years are decades in the rearview mirror the Virginian remains the essential writer of what we still call the nation’s birth certificate.

My mouse pad since 2016 and afternoon at the Library of Congress.

There is no stopping, it seems, the continuing desire to remove the honor accorded to the men responsible for the very creation of our nation and governing system. The latest attempt came this week in the city when Jefferson Middle School principal Sue Abplanalp formally asked the board and the superintendent to launch the renaming process.

There is no doubt that the name change will occur, after all, there is no interest in truly embracing history or actually learning from it. It is far easier just to let liberal guilt guide the school board in making its decision.

Jefferson Middle School was named after the famed third president. Forget the masterful writing of the Declaration of Independence or his guidance and intellect with the crafting of the Constitution. Oh, yes, forget, too, his adroit handling of the purchase of the Louisiana Purchase.

Toss aside the work Jefferson did in his home state which then led to the First Amendment to the Constitution prohibiting any law which would impede a citizen’s free exercise of religion. Or that as president he throttled the slave trade with a ban on importing people.

Forget all those parts of his life. (Should we assume today’s students in our schools are even aware of such facts?) Jefferson owned slaves. That is all that matters in an age when a whole thought should be no longer than a text message. As such, given Jefferson’s slave-holding past, the current reasoning goes, we should banish his name from the school.

Treating history in such a fashion, and worse having district leadership echo such sentiments misses the glaring central fact about our past.

While the pages of our past are filled with events, more importantly, they are about fellow humans who lived in their time, saw the world from their perspective, and did not know what the future held. They had their social norms, customs, and ideals.

It is that last point that echoes from the pen of Jefferson, and through the words of the Declaration of Independence. He did not create new principles about mankind and liberty but rather so very artfully phrased the ongoing arguments of the era into a document that resonated around the globe.

Jefferson was very aware of the shortcomings within himself as a man, and also within humankind. He knew the experiment with democracy on our shore at that time had as much chance of failing as succeeding. As such, it was the ideals of further progress that anchored his faith–as well as those of the others who signed their names–that we could rise to the calling of the times.

I have never read the Founders ever used the term ‘the arc of history’. It is used continually now, and Jefferson fits the profile of that theme. The striving for a more just society, a more equitable one, a safer and enlightened one was the hope of Jefferson.

While Jefferson owned slaves, he also was able to intellectually articulate the moral poison such a policy had on our nation. The complexity of history is often easier to toss aside than to be grabbed onto and mastered. Instead of focusing attention on better teaching and higher demand for learning from students about such slices of our history, changing the name of a school for politically correct purposes seems easier.

The rest of us know, however, that pretending the Founders can be placed into a neat and politically polite framework of our wishing is a direct slap to the face of common sense.

Near the top of this post is a photo of the mouse pad on my desk. It reflects my love of history, appreciation for the Founders, and a deep fondness for books. While I find my view of a central government more akin to John Adams and Federalists than to Thomas Jefferson and the Republicans of his time, my deep regard for the mind of Jefferson has never wavered.

If only all that could be taught in a Madison classrom!

And so it goes.

Is Democracy Slipping From Our Fingers? 30% Unperturbed by Prospect Military Interferes With Election

One of those essential stories from our national narrative takes place as Benjamin Franklin is leaving the just concluded Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. A person who comes up to one of the most engaging Founders inquired what sort of government the delegates had labored over during the hot weeks of summer. His answer still rings down over the ages.

“A republic, if you can keep it.”

The blunt and crisp response came to mind today when reading something that should concern each of us as we read this from POLITICO.

Citizens were asked in the Politico Morning Consult Poll to weigh upon the topic of the Trump administration’s draft executive order telling the military to seize voting machines after the 2020 presidential election.

We asked: “If, following a presidential election, voting machines in swing states were seized by the United States military for analysis, would you say this was …

… an abuse of power?
— Yes: 55% (“definitely” was 31% and “probably” 24%)
— No: 29% (“probably not” was 16% and “definitely not” 13%)

… an effort to undermine the election outcome?
— Yes: 51% (definitely 27% and probably 24%)
— No: 31% (probably not 18% and definitely not 13%)

Consider the data. The fact that three in ten voters —30%— seem unperturbed by the prospect of the military interfering with an election!

In the United States!

In 2022!

That stuns this blogger, a man who is almost impossible to stun or shock anymore given all we have seen since 2015.

When Franklin responded to the curious person in 1787 he was brief. I suggest with a fuller comment he would have added weighty thoughts about the future. Whatever was done in the building he had just left, he might have remarked, or the work just completed, would only be worthy of any of the efforts if people were robust, active, and determined to see the document bear fruit.

He would have possibly placed his hand on the shoulder of the person he was talking to and spoke about how the document if passed by the states, would require our collective attention and devotion so as not to have it stall-out. The words penned by the Framers were not self-activating. They would need the power of the people, he would add, so to make the government work. And then over the years, he might have added, the work of the Founders would certainly require a renewal of awareness so future generations would fully understand the flame of liberty must never be extinguished.

Today the poll results show something is terribly wrong in America.

That three in ten voters —30%— seem unperturbed by the prospect of the military interfering with an election means that we have serious reason to question if Franklin was correct about adding his thoughts regarding the Republic with “if you can keep it.”

And so it goes.

Supreme Court Hands Donald Trump Decisive Defeat

The January 6th Committee won today at the Supreme Court. But more importantly, the American people scored a solid victory at the Court, a win democracy truly required.

The Supreme Court soundly rejected Donald Trump’s request to block the release of some of his White House records to the congressional investigators seeking insight into the deadly and violent insurrection at the nation’s Capitol.

The order turned aside Trump’s request to block the record’s release while the case continues through the courts regarding his assertion of executive privilege. It means there is no legal obstacle to the release of the materials from the National Archives, and Trump’s lawyers have argued that would make the case moot.

There is one part to this story that I would have much enjoyed better understanding. The Court’s order did not provide insight into the reasoning that put Trump in his place. Only Justice Clarence Thomas made note of his dissent, but he did not offer any elaboration into this thought process. Nothing untoward should be taken from these outcomes as this was an emergency request that the Court processed.

But this does leave me with perhaps an esoteric question tonight. Is Justice Thomas the ultimate Federalist or what? With his siding with the idea that the Executive, even out of office(!), has the power to block Congressional oversight is simply more than I would argue, the Founders had in mind.

This issue, in my mind, was never and should have never become partisan. I firmly believe that the question for the Court was a critical one as it framed a (small d) democratic process question of great merit.

Weeks ago I had read Judge Patricia A. Millet; writing for a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on this case and pulled it up again tonight. I offer what she said in light of Thomas’ action.

She wrote, “. . . .Under our Constitution, we have one president at a time.”

How then would a former president have the power of such a privilege as Trump asserted? Plainly put, there is no such power or right.

The Court ruled today correctly for the direct issue at hand, but also, and perhaps even more importantly, for the larger issue at hand, too.

And so it goes.

This Year’s Fourth Of July Book, “The Men Who United The States”

Each year at this time I like to read something which connects to the Fourth of July, a holiday I very much enjoy. Most years the topic is centered around the Founders of the nation, their lives, and their work at creating the start of what we now enjoy as Americans.

About a week ago, I came across the description for a book that instantly ramped up my interest in reading it, so it was ordered from Amazon. This, then, is my Fourth of July book.

Once I started it the reason became even more clear. On July 4, 2011, the British-born historian Simon Winchester took an oath to become an American citizen. Yeah, that is super grand.

I first came across Simon Winchester during the pandemic with his book The Professor and the Madman which is a grand look at the making of the Oxford English Dictionary. (After reading the book I foolishly watched the movie which was so limp and lacking in the fullness of the written words that it was a serious letdown.) The style of writing from Winchester, which flows effortlessly along with an ability to tackle an enormous topic and then present it with clarity is not an easy undertaking. He succeeded to such a degree that when I saw his name on The Men Who United The States I knew I would be hooked.

I fully recognize the toxic environment in which we find ourselves since 2015 and the start of that cycle’s presidential election season. But it is for that very reason which the book connects with me. By looking backward with the Lewis and Clark expedition, digging into the geology of the land, and following as Winchester writes of the five so-called classical elements we are presented with an enduring truth. Something we must not forget. And something especially vital to recognize on this, or any other July 4th.

The United States endures regardless of our bombast, and the, at times, willful disregard some of our fellow citizens have for our institutions and common-sense norms. We may have sectional differences, a plethora of wildly diverse and loud opinions, but our flag of a united nation still flies coast to coast.

That then, is the large generic take of the book, as I enter chapter four.

However, it is the arguments of deeper questions and ponderings which propel the book and make it worthy of my time. Perhaps yours, too.

Happy Fourth of July!