By Robert A. Vella
Before moving on to today’s editorial, I would like to point out yet another deadly mass shooting this time in Thousand Oaks, California. Such continuing tragedies reflect the intense cultural and political polarization now tearing this nation apart and which reveal a society that is broken in virtually every way possible. Americans are a very sick people, and worst of all they are not receiving the care they so desperately need.
Much has been written about the general decline of morality in America. While the mores of all cultures change somewhat over time, and demagogues do try to exploit this phenomenon to advance their ideological agendas, the prevailing sense both inside and outside the country sees the people of the U.S. as having lost their way. Americans are struggling to discern the difference between right and wrong, and are substituting the basic principles of morality with tribal identity and association. Increasingly, Americans are ignoring the crookedness of their leaders as long as they perceive it as serving their particular interests.
But, the governmental foundations of all functional democracies can accommodate evolving moralities up to a certain point. It is done through the establishment of professional ethics – that is, legal codes of conduct and behavioral guidelines which are intended to hold organizational members accountable for their actions. In America, all public officials work under such ethical standards including Supreme Court justices and the President of the United States.
Although ethics rules have been tested by unscrupulous individuals from time to time in American history (e.g. Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal), no president since at least the Civil War has been so brazen about it than Donald Trump. Yesterday, just hours after the pivotal midterm election results were determined, he “requested the resignation” (a convenient euphemism for “fired”) of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and replaced him with an interim AG (Matthew Whitaker) having limited legal experience and whose background as a far right-wing activist, political candidate, and outspoken opponent of the DOJ’s ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, raises very serious ethical questions up to and including obstruction of justice. See:
Furthermore, even if Trump’s acting AG has not yet committed any obstruction of the Russia investigation headed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the circumstances surrounding the appointment certainly do violate ethics rules defined as the appearance of impropriety. See:
This is what highly respected historian Michael Beschloss said yesterday after the firing of Sessions, from: ‘Ten Times Worse Than Nixon’: Historian Sounds The Alarm After Trump Fires Sessions
If this is going the way it looks, this is ten times worse than Nixon because, let’s look, if this leads to let’s say the firing of Robert Mueller or the substantial limiting of this investigation – ten times worse than Nixon. Because let’s look at what Donald Trump has done here. Let’s first look at the Supreme Court. He now has a five justice majority on the Supreme Court. The fifth justice is the one person of all those people on that federalist society list that has the most extreme views of permitting a president not to be investigated, not to be indicted, not to be subpoenaed, use pardons to help himself. There is no doubt in my mind that the reason why Brett Kavanaugh is on the court tonight is because Donald Trump wanted him to be reliable if a Trump case could come to the court. And remember, that was a vacancy that Donald Trump created by encouraging Anthony Kennedy maybe to resign from the court earlier than expected so that it would be Brett Kavanaugh in this position tonight and not Anthony Kennedy who might have been a little bit more in a position to stand up to Donald Trump. And then on the other side, this is a president who now looks as if he’s very directly not only firing the attorney general and putting in someone to replace him, who is by most accounts, by most accounts, not terribly qualified. By some accounts a political hack. By almost all accounts someone who can be relied upon to be completely obedient to President Trump.
Here’s how we arrived at this constitutional crisis which now poses an existential threat to American democracy and the rule of law:
July 2016 – FBI Director James Comey begins investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election campaign.
March 2, 2017 – Attorney General Jeff Sessions recuses himself from the Russia investigation after admitting that he did not disclose two meetings he had with the Russian ambassador to Washington during his U.S. Senate confirmation hearings. Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein takes over that role.
May 9, 2017 – Trump fires FBI Director James Comey and admits it was because Comey was investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible collusion with his presidential campaign.
May 17, 2017 – Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appoints former FBI Director Robert Mueller as Special Counsel to lead the ongoing investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and all related matters.
There are Americans today, and not just Trump supporters, who oppose the Mueller investigation. They assert that the president must be above the law to function as president, that these ethics rules shouldn’t exist, that Trump’s collusion with Russia to influence the outcome of the election – if true – aren’t really serious, or that it’s irrelevant because all politicians do similar things. Such misguided opinions illustrate perfectly the premise of this post regarding America’s precipitous moral decline. Ethics rules are absolutely imperative for trust in government; else, society will naturally decay into increasingly fragmented and warring factions.
I’ll conclude with a historical quote provided by a fine fellow blogger. From: The Crisis is Upon Us
Thomas Jefferson wrote: “Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.”