Centrist Democracy Political Institute - Items filtered by date: June 2024
Friday, 28 June 2024 04:25

A castrated Republican Party

TRUMP's presidential triumph in 2016, was no fluke but neither was it pre-ordained. But his failure during the four years of his term was expected — even predictable. Last column's speculation on Trump's Second Coming was predicated on MAGA's continued hold on the conservative right's narrative.

Today's column will shed light on these conjectures as we further delve not only into the flawed character of this man making a comeback, but a cursory review on how he progressed from a business career of bankruptcies, failures, and scams, punctuated by a 15-season run of his reality TV series "The Apprentice," parlaying this into a launching pad for his political career. Several books written during this period will be excerpted here: "The Making of Donald Trump" by a New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist, (David Cay Johnston, 2016); "American Carnage" (Tim Alberta, New York Times Bestseller, 2019); and "A Very Stable Genius" (Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig, Penguin Press, 2020).

David Cay Johnston describes Trump's rise to political power, using the tools he perfected as a private businessman and a professional scammer. The second book is a cursory review of what Tim Alberta describes as "the Republican Civil War," presaging the rise of Trump within its ranks. The third book starts with the perversion of the GOP designating him as its presidential nominee after the primaries and over the carcasses of the traditional GOP old guard.

The making of Donald Trump

Trump's sordid reputation when he threw his hat into the ring was not a deterrent but in a bizarre way, contributed to his mystique. True, he was a political outsider and a tyro but his brash and "no-holds-barred-the-devil-takes-the-hindmost" approach to capture the nomination fired the imagination of the GOP fringe, already wary of the establishment in the wake of a series of past governments. This movement metamorphosed into a cult-like assemblage with the slogan Make America Great Again (MAGA). Not an original one, this was lifted from Ronald Reagan, the icon of the American conservative right and the GOP's quintessential guru.

His stint at "The Apprentice" was a precursor to his insidious manipulation of media, helping him create a fictionalized version of himself as the "can-do-no-nonsense" executive. Keenly aware of the weaknesses of American media working under constant stress for headlines and deadlines — premium is given to sound bites in lieu of deep-research as de rigueur. This served him well as a candidate and later as president, who spends hours not at his Oval Office but binge-watching tv news and instantly texting replies on Twitter. He has no qualms about bullying journalists in his regular press conferences with his "alternative facts" when confronted with news and realities not in consonance with his own narrative. Those he labeled as "fake news." The book's author, Johnston, posits that "... Trump tries to hide the considerable gaps in his knowledge by making up his own facts, projecting a façade of superior intellect..."

Johnston further concludes that in Trump's dealings with his detractors, he uses the instruments of the law as plaintiff — monetarily burdening and intimidating the defendants with his financial clout. This ominous streak reveals the Donald himself to be "... a petty, immoral and vengeful man who will break the law and risk the lives of others to... get even."

The American carnage

Writing in 2019, Trump's second year in office, Tim Alberta gives us an interesting glimpse of the ideological deterioration of the GOP from a party of prudent conservatives, affluent suburbanites and champion of American values to that of one advocating the emerging right-wing voices on the fringes, replete with hints of racism and white supremacy. After a two-term GOP-led government of President "Dubya" Bush, who precipitated the Afghan war as a consequence of September 11 and the Iraq war — an alibi for the fake "weapons of mass destruction" — America had to undergo the subprime mortgage crisis. Added to this was, surprisingly, the heated issue of immigration, which many American's blamed for job losses and economic dislocation.

With these issues, John McCain, the American war hero, was trounced in the elections of 2008 by the first black American president, Barack Obama. The GOP and the political right were consumed by ideological zealotry and racism. And for Obama's two terms, the GOP seethed — paving the way in 2016 for Trump's takeover of the discredited GOP with his "baskets of deplorables." The GOP, once the bastion of American values, has transformed itself into what Tim Alberta dubbed as "... the home of laid-off steelworkers and angry white nationalists."

Can Sara Duterte reinvent herself?

Trump's bursting into the scene was timely. Addressing one of the cores of America's despondency — immigration — he said "... we will build a wall, and Mexico will pay for it...;" a scarier manifestations of what Americans are really being confronted with all along, using immigrants as scapegoats, "... feelings of instability that de-industrialization and free-market policies had brought to large swaths of the US over the last thirty years."

Tim Alberta's final take: "The Republican Party has been a battleground for ideological conflict over the last decade. The party's more moderate establishment, along with its policy platform of globalization and free trade, has been overthrown by the ideological right, in the shape of Donald Trump, who has brought a far more nativist and divisive agenda to the party. As Trump's presidency continues, the GOP is set to change even more."

A Very Stable Genius

Written in the third year of Trump's disastrous presidency, authors Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig gave a running account exploring the controversies and defining moments of Trump's failing presidency behind the scenes while things are volatile and in a dangerous flux.

Foremost of these was the Donald's disdain for expertise, demonstrating ignorance of subjects presidents have traditionally been expected to know; alienating the US military hierarchy itself when, from the very start, he declared at a high-level meeting at the Pentagon that he knows more than the admirals and generals, who are losers and "... he would not go to war with them."

In foreign affairs, Trump was enamored with Putin and practically realigned the US with Russia, its traditional enemy. More disastrously, the NATO leaders were denigrated by Trump, threatening to leave the alliance, abandoning them to the whims of their common enemy — if they don't pay up.

Rucker and Leonnig segued over to the damning Mueller report investigating the interference of Russia in the US elections. It contained a catalog of misconduct where, despite insufficient evidence proving Trump colluded with the Russian government, the report was unequivocal in claiming Trump and his aides hampered Mueller's investigation. Trump was obstructing justice! Yet because Trump controls the levers of power — the FBI and the DoJ which refused to exonerate him — he fired the FBI director unceremoniously. It wasn't the report itself, but its interpretation that mattered. "Here, the loudest voice won out — Trump's," the book's authors declared.

Mueller had the last say: "... he had neither concluded that the president had committed a crime, nor exonerated him." The Donald got away that time.

Not this time. Today, he is a convicted felon!
Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 19 June 2024 08:41

A felon's second coming

THIS begins a series of columns that will attempt to examine this felon who may be gifted by the American people a second chance at governance. Trump's reincarnation is an international concern as the world's hegemon. The impact of American leadership and their policies on the global political dynamics is incalculable and will alter our lives in so many ways as yet unforeseen.

This column will not pass judgment on America's choices, but with millions of our compatriots now living in that land, we reserve the right to help our kin see their way clear through on our best lights. It is not interference, as we in the Philippines do not vote for America's leadership. But we claim familial moral ascendancy — in consonance with the best dictates of our culture. Like this columnist, we have siblings, relatives, children and grandchildren in America. We are family!

Billionaire and business genius

We start with his character and business acumen. Long before Trump became a convict, he had already shown hints of mental and moral qualities distinctive to his type of leadership — possessed of a criminal mind disposed to diabolical schemes. To the manor born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth, he is indeed charismatic but flawed, accumulating a business track record that is less than stellar. In the book "The Making of Donald Trump" (Amazon.com 2016), author David Johnson wrote: "Trump has a long history of illegal practices ... [and] profited, thanks to help from known criminals and mob associate... he positioned himself as a savior, a sort of modern Midas with the ability to step in and turn any project into gold."

He was, in fact, building up a reputation as a con man. He projected his brand narcissistically, attaching his name to his assets and business ventures: Trump hotels, entertainment and casino resorts, four separate enterprises that filed for bankruptcy in 1991, 1992, 2004, 2009 and again in 2014. Trump Steaks launched a line of steaks in 2007 and Trump Vodka in 2006, but all failed. Trump Airlines, which he purchased in 1989, ultimately ceased operations in 1992.

Trump Mortgage, launched in 2006, closed its doors in 2007; Trump Magazine, launched in 2007, closed in 2009; and his Trump University, a for-profit-education scam, faced lawsuits and shut down in 2010.

He was fueled by debt and leveraged the same by bloating his assets for maximum bank collateral but falsifying and minimizing the same to the IRS to avoid taxes. He was adept at manipulating the instruments of capitalism to his ends. After all these bankruptcies and business failures, it was easy to transition from a top-tier businessman to a top-rank politician. America gathered him to its bosom as der Fuhrer.

The presidency

Trump's sudden appearance on the political scene was timely. In his book "American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump" (2019, New York Times Bestseller), Tim Alberta wrote: "The 2008 financial crisis brought about an ideological conflict within the Republican Party and the beginnings of a populist mood in the country... During the primary debates for the 2016 election, Trump shattered Republican Party orthodoxy. In response to Barack Obama's presidency, the political right was consumed with racism and ideological zealotry."

In the wake of the total annihilation of his GOP primary rivals and the capture of the Republican Party by his MAGA movement, in his presidency, good but naïve Americans with patriotic intentions were drawn into his circle; thrown in the mix were all sorts of seedy characters — from the disreputable to the criminal-prone, lugging along with them their personal agenda. His successful reality TV show, "The Apprentice," propelled Trump to the consciousness of the TV-hungry American audience, propagating his image as a no-nonsense executive, which was carried over to his "pretend presidency." In the book "Fire and Fury"(Henry Holt & Co., 2018), Michael Wolff wrote: "His (Trump's) was a campaign built to fail, with no intention of actually winning. It only existed as a way to promote his brand on one of the world's biggest stages."

And like his TV show participants, he bullied them all. For those who couldn't take it, he disparaged and insulted publicly like Rex Tillerson, his Secretary of State recruited from the NYC financial sector, who once called him a "f*****g moron." The others either resigned, asked to leave, or were fired ignominiously: Jeff Sessions, attorney general; John Kelly, secretary of homeland security and later White House chief of staff, dragging with them whatever shred of self-respect they could gather. James Mattis, defense secretary, a much decorated American war veteran, was sacked, and his replacement, Mark Esper, was later fired after Trump lost the 2020 election. Kirstjen Nielsen, secretary of homeland security; Ryan Zinke, secretary of the interior; and Wilbur Ross, secretary of commerce, all got the boot. His government was littered with the carcasses of men and women occupying a spectrum from the decent to the inadequate to the criminal.

His entourage was a veritable rogue's gallery. Persons who existed in the fringes of the law acted as his "soldatos and consiglieres," with the Donald acting in his role as the "capo di tutti capi." Steve Bannon, his ideological soulmate; Michael Flynn, his national security adviser, he pardoned after pleading guilty to lying to the FBI. Roger Stone, his longtime associate, was convicted of lying to Congress and witness tampering and later pardoned by Trump. Michael Cohen, his former personal lawyer, pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations and other charges. Cohen was a main witness to Trump's recent criminal conviction on 34 counts. Campaign chairman Paul Manafort, convicted on multiple counts of financial fraud and conspiracy, was later pardoned and is now reportedly back in Trump's 2024 presidential campaign.

Chances of regaining presidency

He will win again because of two things: Trump poisoned the minds not only of his base but many Americans that the system of justice is impaired. Trust in the blindfolded lady justice has waned as she has taken a peek and pronounced that this was a witch hunt all along and Trump is being persecuted — the mantra of MAGA. Accordingly, from the very beginning, the American elite and the "deep state" have decided to go after the Donald, the leader of America's great unwashed — the basket of deplorables — who for so long have been shortchanged by the American system. Trump burst into the scene upending the Republican Party, whipping up the right-wing base, offering them "red meat" by successfully demonizing the Democrats, led by Hillary, who personified the liberal sectors, women's rights groups, immigrants who cost them jobs, Blacks, and even policies of globalization, deregulation and military intervention abroad, and focusing on regaining a "lost America."

Tim Alberta may be correct that "...Trump evoked a lost America, an America of steady jobs, white picket fences and 1950's social attitudes. Crucially, it hinted at a much whiter America."

If Trump succeeds in feeding into this bizarre nostalgia and dredging up the simmering and dormant racism of white America, he will assume the 47th presidency in 2025.

To be continued


Published in LML Polettiques
Friday, 14 June 2024 02:59

What now, America? In the aftermath

IT'S been two weeks since Trump was ignominiously enrolled into the pantheon of America's celebrated criminals. Forty-eight hours after the verdict, his campaign reportedly raised $46 million. This amount remains unverified. Granted, I would surmise this came from the contribution of the "basket of deplorables," who may have overcompensated for ignoring the call of their cult leader to storm (pun unintended) the New York Storm Daniels cum-business-records-falsification trial venue with the MAGA hordes. The coalition of Proud Boys, QAnon and the motley fringe White Supremacists did not materialize in massive street protests in major cities. It may be recalled that Trump summoned his base for a show of force, reminding the American people that they should not tolerate his indictments, his criminal trial, this witch hunt, and, least of all, his guilty verdict. He invited them to a party. No one came — except for the daily vigil of a handful of the dregs of New York, and the butt-licking congressional leadership headed by Speaker Mike Johnson along with Elise Stefanik, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, and the intermittent presence of favorite son, Eric. Ivanka, the daughter, and Melania, the wife, were never present at the proceedings — not even on the day he was declared a felon.

A felon by American jurisprudence has some unique features. He has lost his right to vote — at least in some states where his participation in the democratic process is impaired. This really doesn't mean much, as he has, in some ways, raped democracy.

Federal law prohibits felons from possessing firearms. Not much of a restriction as he continues to be protected by the Secret Service for life as a former president, even when behind bars — a logistical nightmare.

And a convicted felon is denied entry or banned from visiting 38 countries (including the US) except in countries like North Korea, Iran and China, among others.

A dysfunctional democratic process

But Trump will be the Republican choice for the US presidency. And there is a good chance he will accept the nomination while behind bars. His sentencing by Judge Merchan will be on July 11 — a few days before his anointment at the GOP convention. Federal laws don't proscribe a convicted felon from running for public office — even the US presidency. The US Constitution provides only three qualifications for the presidency: being a natural-born citizen, a resident of the United States for at least 14 years, and must be 35 years old by the time he is elected. The criminal Trump certainly meets these qualifications.

Trump's distorted legacy

From 2015 to 2016, when Trump burst into the American political consciousness, elections in America have been forever distorted. Politics, as practiced in most countries, is oftentimes dirty, but there are rare occasions when issues are discussed and debated, and political conversation involves the public — with some candidates elevating the discourse to a higher plane. But the advent of social media and the requisite sound bites gave precedence to branding and popularity, impelling drastic changes to the nature of political combat.

I can recall the first televised US presidential debates of Kennedy and Nixon in 1960; the subsequent Reagan and Mondale in 1984; Bush and Dukakis in 1988; and Obama and McCain in 2008, where American domestic and international issues were elucidated for the audience — both local and foreign — and the candidates staked their positions clearly and unambiguously.

The presidential debates of 2016 were altogether different. The politics of personal insults which Trump introduced during their GOP presidential aspirants debates, where he decimated his GOP rivals — ushering in the era of name-calling: "Little Marco" Rubio, "Lyin" Ted Cruz, "Sleepy Ben" Carson, "Low Energy" Jeb, "Fat" Cris Christie, etc. spilled into the Trump vs. Hillary free-for-all. Decorum flew out the window when Trump opened with a statement, "...if Hillary can't satisfy husband (Bill Clinton), what makes her think she can satisfy America?"

Hillary's retorts were no less devastating: "You could put half of Trump's supporters into what I call 'baskets of deplorables' ... racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic ..."

Since then and carried over to the Biden vs. Trump debates in 2020, personal insults, name-calling and "gotcha" arguments have ruled the day. And the polarized voters carried the divide to the streets — MAGA Magots vs. Trump Deranged Syndromes (TDS).

30,000 lies

In the course of the Donald's presidential years, the Washington Post's fact-checking project claims Trump uttered a total of 30,573 lies and countless conspiracy theories. Michael Beschloss, presidential historian, declared: "I have never seen a president in American history who has lied so continuously and so outrageously as Donald Trump, period." Trump started the series of prevarications right after his inaugural address when he pushed his spokesman Sean Spicer, on false claims about the size of his inauguration crowd being the largest in history, despite photographic evidence to the contrary. And up to the time when "...he has spent the final weeks of his term blitzing the American people with falsehoods and far-fetched conspiracies as part of a failed attempt to overturn the election he lost — cementing his legacy as what fact-checkers and presidential historians say is the most mendacious White House occupant ever." (NBC News, Dec 31, 2020, Jane C. Timm)

Everyone has a favorite. Mine is one at a time when hundreds of thousands of Americans were dead of the virus. President Trump, in his daily briefing at the height of the pandemic, addressed the squirming Dr. Deborah Brix, who served as the White House Covid-19 response coordinator: "... suggested the possibility of an 'injection' of disinfectant into a person infected with the coronavirus as a deterrent to the virus ... supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or some other way..." (New York Times, April 24, 2020)

Laying the predicate for 2024

There is a bizarre pattern to Trump's pronouncements and demeanor. During the culling out of presidential aspirants in 2016 — the panel was asked if they will support the winner of the GOP primaries. A gentleman's agreement was forged. Trump was the lone dissenting voice.

In the 2016 debate, he was asked if he would abide by the electorate. He said no! "'Crooked' Hillary can't win, and if he (Trump) did, he would "lock her up!" He won the electoral college, though he lost the popular votes.

In the 2020 election, he declared unequivocally: "I will win by a landslide. If Biden wins, the elections can only be rigged!" Biden won.

And he proceeded to propagate the great lie that he won. Biden and the Democrats cheated — intimidating Vice President Pence into reversing the electoral votes, leading to the Georgia election interference and the Jan. 6, 2020 Capitol attack, for which he is now indicted for both.

There is a method to Trump's madness. Or he is just insane. He is now laying the predicate for the 2024 elections. If Biden wins, the elections are rigged. But Trump will lose. Americans are not that stupid to vote a felon into the presidency.

Or are they?
Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 05 June 2024 04:01

The travails of criminal Trump

GUILTY on all 34 counts! I had not expected this verdict. From an outsider looking in, I expected a judgment similar to O.J. Simpson's, found innocent on reasonable doubt of killing his wife Nicole and her friend Ronald Goldman. Nevertheless, OJ was found liable for "wrongful death" and ordered to pay $33.5 million in damages to Nicole's and Goldman's families. I never could figure out American jurisprudence, declaring one "not guilty" of parricide and murder yet being made to pay for those same killings in a civil case.

In the current trial, I thought that embedded among 12 jurors, a MAGA adherent would succumb to a lame defense injecting "reasonable doubt" against the prosecution's star witness, Cohen, a convicted felon himself — producing a "hung jury." It turned out they were unanimous in finding ex-president Donald Trump a criminal. Apparently, the US justice system works.

But MAGA now avers that the trial was a con job with the 12 tainted jurors all coming from New York "where 96 percent of the electorate vote Democratic, and all suffering from Trump Deranged Syndrome (TDS), thanks to the liberal media" (social media post of a MAGA, Esther Barton). The argument advanced by the MAGA crowd is that "...this was rigged from the very beginning. A biased judge with a case tried in a predominantly Democratic state." Wow, how stupid!

Back in 1995, the public broke down along racial lines where mostly whites were angered by the acquittal while the majority of Black Americans favored OJ's exoneration. In America today, the people are likewise polarized badly. This verdict could affect the November 5 US presidential elections either way.

I watched with fascination this six-week trial, misnomered as simply "US$130,000 hush money" paid to a porn star meant to conceal sexual shenanigans to protect Melania, the wife — a lamely mounted defense strategy. But the American jurors were unanimous in finding Trump guilty of falsifying business records to cover up this extra-marital affair in advance of the 2016 presidential election, which, ironically, he won. Poor Melania, used as an alibi. That is probably the reason why she was never seen inside the New York courtroom supporting a philanderer of a husband.

Now MAGA pooh-poohs this verdict, declaring other politicians have done worse things. Why single out Trump alone? "Stormy Daniels" has an inconsequential impact on the vaunted American concept of democracy and the rule of law. I agree. I would rather that Trump fought first his three other cases now awaiting litigation where America's sense of justice will really be exposed as it has often been smugly portrayed — that American Western Christian values are superior to those of the rest of the world. Now after this buffoon of a felon president had to go down ignominiously on mere transgressions of personal undisciplined animal appetites, the succeeding trials could be anti-climactic. America will be unable to showcase and elevate the conversation and boasts of "their better angels — those traits and admirable aspects of temperament or aspirations toward what is good" (paraphrasing US President Lincoln at his first inaugural).

Trump's other cases

Trump was indicted in August 2023 of a racketeering case (RICO) in Georgia for an alleged scheme to overturn the 2020 presidential elections. Of his original 18 co-defendants, four have already pleaded guilty and reached plea deals with prosecutors. This should have been the first case tried were it not for Trump himself causing delays. Over 60 lawsuits were filed by his allies in an attempt to challenge the results of the 2020 presidential election. These lawsuits were quashed and did not change the outcome of the election, which saw Joe Biden elected as the 46th President of the United States.

In South Florida, the Donald is charged with 40 counts from his mishandling of sensitive government records — an obstruction of justice where all his co-defendants have pleaded not guilty. There is a chance that this indictment will be tossed out by the Trump-appointed Judge Cannon who had this postponed indefinitely.

But the indictment that has greater ramifications on America involves Trump's alleged plot to negate the transfer of power in the 2020 presidential elections. The world was a witness — and entertained by the hordes of MAGA supporters who stormed the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021, attempting to prevent the session in Congress from counting the Electoral College votes formalizing the victory of president-elect Biden. The attack was unsuccessful in reversing Biden's victory, but Trump's MAGA, some members of the Oath Keepers Militia, and the Proud Boys involved in this criminal act are now imprisoned, and some are awaiting prosecution.

Interestingly, all three cases may not be litigated before the November 5 US presidential elections pending the US Supreme Court ruling on US presidential immunity.

Comparative Philippine scene

And we should really not gloat too much over the Donald's predicament, although we may be forgiven for momentarily engaging in schadenfreude. Trump's travails trump (pun unintended) the equivalent or worse cases in the Philippines. We, too, have felon presidents, but egregiously a sitting senator, a felon found guilty of corruption, direct and indirect bribery and sentenced to eight to 10 to 12 years imprisonment, yet still reports for work at the Senate and sits as an 'honorable member of this august body.'

I must admit to a certain vicarious thrill binge-watching video clips of those late-night comedians, Kimmel, Colbert, Meyers, et al., giving running accounts on Trump's courtroom behavior complete with vulgar-bordering-slapstick, describing his farts and his drooling while napping; and the Keystone cops-like display of canine loyalty by the GOP leadership flying to New York led by the House Speaker all in uniform red ties and dark suits — the Donald's trademark attire.

And I'm a little jealous that a powerful man can be found guilty by his own peers in a trial of only six weeks and 10 hours of deliberations to find him accountable for his misdeeds. In the Philippines, such trials are impossible. We have more serious crimes committed that couldn't reach the trial stage, And if they did, judges, witnesses and litigants would have been long gone — dead or suborned. And the records lost. And sadly, the crimes forgotten, and their progenitors even occupying the seat of power — even becoming president.

Trump winning the presidency

Many of Trump's true believers — and they are countless here in the Philippines — still hold their faith in this felon, advancing the argument that this verdict enhances his image as the tragic figure hounded by the Democrats and the deep state on a never-ending witch-hunt. True enough, the aftermath triggered a fundraising bonanza of $34.8 million in campaign funds.

The next few months leading to the November elections will be America's circus with name-calling, de rigueur among MAGA fanatics, and 'basket of deplorables' arrayed against the TDS and the Bidenistas, champions of a doddering senile ageing president in the absence of well thought out arguments and unheated political conversation. But as in the 2020 US presidential elections, a dangerous predicate is being laid. Trump will win! If he loses, then the election was rigged! Then, the insanity runs full circle.

Or Trump could be America's 47th president!


Published in LML Polettiques