What House Democrats should do now ~

April 21 at 7:00 PM

It may not have been his intention, but special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has forced a momentous choice on the Democrats who control the House of Representatives. How they navigate the next several months will matter not only to politics but, more importantly, to whether the rule of law prevails.

If we lived in a normal time with a normal president, a normal Republican Party and a normal attorney general, none of this would be so difficult. Mueller’s report is devastating. It portrays a lying, lawless president who pressured aides to obstruct the probe and was happy — “Russia, if you’re listening . . . ” — to win office with the help of a hostile foreign power. It also, by the way, shows the president to be weak and hapless. His aides ignored his orders, and he regularly pandered to a Russian dictator.

Mueller’s catalogue of infamy might have led Republicans of another day to say: Enough. But the GOP’s new standard seems to be that a president is great as long as he’s unindicted.

And never mind that the failure to charge Donald Trump stemmed not from his innocence but from a Justice Department legal opinion saying a sitting president can’t be indicted. Mueller explained he had “fairness” concerns — a truly charming qualm in light of the thuggishness described in the rest of the report — because the no-indictment rule meant there could be no trial. The president would lack an “adversarial opportunity for public name-clearing before an impartial adjudicator.”

And perhaps Mueller did not reckon with an attorney general so eager to become the president’s personal lawyer and chief propagandist. William P. Barr sat on the document for 27 days and mischaracterized it in his March 24 letter. He mischaracterized it again just an hour before it was released.

This leaves Democrats furious — and on their own. Unfortunately, it is not news that this party has a nasty habit of dividing into hostile camps. On the one side, the cautious; on the other side, the aggressive. The prudent ones say members of the hit-for-the-fences crowd don’t understand the political constraints. The pugnacious ones say their circumspect colleagues are timid sellouts.

After Mueller report, Democrats weigh impeachment

Sometimes these fights are relatively harmless, but not this time. Holding Trump accountable for behavior that makes Richard M. Nixon look like George Washington matters, for the present and for the future.

Those demanding impeachment are right to say Mueller’s report can’t just be filed away and ignored. But being tough and determined is not enough. The House also needs to be sober and responsible.

This needle needs to be threaded not just for show, or for narrow electoral reasons. Trump and Barr have begun a battle for the minds and hearts of that small number of Americans (roughly 10 percent or a little more) who are not already locked into their positions. Barr’s calculated sloth in making the report public gave the president and his AG sidekick an opportunity to pre-shape how its findings would be received. The uncommitted now need to see the full horror of what Mueller revealed about this president. A resolute but deliberate approach is more likely to persuade them.

When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) joins her caucus on a conference call Monday, she will reiterate her “one step at a time” strategy. The bottom line is that rushing into impeachment and ruling it out are equally foolish.

This means the House Judiciary, Intelligence, and Oversight and Reform committees should and will begin inquiries immediately. Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) took the first step on Friday by subpoenaing the full, unredacted Mueller report, which the administration immediately resisted. Mueller himself has rightly been asked to appear before both Judiciary and Intelligence.

Nothing is gained by labeling these initial hearings and document requests part of an “impeachment” process. But impeachment should remain on the table. Because Trump and Barr will resist all accountability, preserving the right to take formal steps toward impeachment will strengthen the Democrats’ legal arguments that they have a right to information that Trump would prefer to deep-six.

For now, it’s useful for Democrats such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) to underscore the outrageousness of the abuses Mueller found by calling for impeachment while Democrats in charge of the inquiries such as Nadler and Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, say, as both did on Sunday, they’ll reserve judgment while they sift through the facts.

Of course, Trump is not the only issue in politics. Democratic presidential candidates are already out there focusing on health care, climate, economic justice and political reform. The House can continue other work while the investigators do their jobs.

In an ideal world, the corruption and deceitfulness Mueller catalogued would already have Trump flying off to one of his golf resorts for good. But we do not live in such a world. Defending democratic values and republican government requires fearlessness. It also takes patience.

Trump is trashing the rule of law to stay in power ~ The Washington Post

April 9 at 4:10 PM

President Trump is not hard to figure out. Whenever he is threatened, he lashes out — ethics, rules, laws be damned. He has been threatened on three fronts recently — immigration, his taxes and the Mueller report — and in all three cases, he is urging defiance of the law.

Ending illegal immigration was the central message of Trump’s 2016 campaign. “A Trump administration will stop illegal immigration, deport all criminal aliens and save American lives,” he said on Nov. 2, 2016. There was indeed a dip in undocumented immigration in 2017, but it went up in 2018 — and again so far in 2019. There were more than 92,000 apprehensions at the southwest border in March — the highest level reported in one month in about a decade.

No wonder Trump is so frantic right now — “ranting and raving,” according to CNN. It’s not because he is worried about the welfare of the United States if undocumented immigration continues; as my colleague Michael Gerson notes, Trump appeared to be fine with immigration before he was against it. It’s because he is worried about his own reelection prospects.

Already Trump has declared a state of emergency so that he can spend money on a border wall that Congress refuses to appropriate. This is a direct violation of Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution: “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.”

Now Trump has forced out Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, reportedly because she would not countenance illegal measures such as denying migrants a chance to seek asylum. According to CNN’s Jake Tapper, Trump, while visiting California on Friday, “told border agents to not let migrants in. Tell them we don’t have the capacity, he said. If judges give you trouble, say, ‘Sorry, judge, I can’t do it. We don’t have the room.’ After the President left the room, agents sought further advice from their leaders, who told them they were not giving them that direction and if they did what the President said they would take on personal liability. You have to follow the law, they were told.” If this report is accurate, supervisors are telling their agents to disobey an unlawful presidential directive — an extraordinary and perhaps unprecedented occurrence that deserves greater attention.

Trump is mounting another assault on the law by leaving so many vacancies in his administration and relying on “acting” appointees. Article II, Section 2of the Constitution: The president “shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for.” Yet at the Departments of Interior, Defense and now Homeland Security, “acting” — i.e., unconfirmed — secretaries are in charge. Also “acting” are the United Nations ambassador and the director of the Office of Management and Budget.

In all, about 40 percent of the key Senate-confirmed positions in the government have not been filled by individuals who have been appointed and confirmed with the “Advice and Consent of the Senate.” At the Department of Homeland Security alone, there are 18 vacancies at the top, including secretary, deputy secretary, chief financial officer, two undersecretaries, assistant secretary for policy, assistant secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement and administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. And with the announcement of Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan as DHS acting secretary, his position in Customs and Border Protection will be vacant as well.

Trump perceives a personal advantage in this chaos. “I like acting. It gives me more flexibility,” he said in January, presumably because unconfirmed appointees are more likely to be loyal to him personally rather than to the Congress or Constitution. This helps to explain why, nearly four months after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned after Trump announced a decision to withdraw from Syria, the president has made no attempt to confirm a successor.

Trump has also signaled his intent to defy the law to keep his taxes secret. The acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, vowed on Sunday that Democrats will “never” see the president’s tax returns, even though the Internal Revenue Code dictates that the Internal Revenue Service “shall” turn over any taxpayer’s returns upon the request of Congress’s tax-writing committees.

Meanwhile, Trump has changed his tune on special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report, from calling for its release to now suggesting that it should stay secret. While Attorney General William P. Barr vows to release the report within a week, he is suggesting that it may come with heavy redactions ostensibly designed to protect information including grand-jury testimony and classified information but likely designed to protect the president. (Barr could ask for authorization from a judge to release grand-jury material, and Congress already can receive classified information.) Barr preemptively attempted to clear Trump of obstruction-of-justice charges in his public summary released last month, after having gotten the job seemingly because he wrote a bizarre memorandum embracing the theory that the president cannot commit obstruction of justice through acts such as firing the FBI director. If that’s the case, we have a czar, not a president.

The real national emergency isn’t at the border. It’s in Washington. Trump is trashing the rule of law to stay in power — and the very same Republicans who excoriated President Barack Obama for his supposed misuse of executive power are meekly going along.

The Moral Peril of Meritocracy ~ NYT

Our individualistic culture inflames the ego and numbs the spirit. Failure teaches us who we are.

By David Brooks

Mr. Brooks is an Opinion columnist. This essay is adapted from his forthcoming book, “The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life.”

Credit Antoine Maillard

Many of the people I admire lead lives that have a two-mountain shape. They got out of school, began their career, started a family and identified the mountain they thought they were meant to climb — I’m going to be an entrepreneur, a doctor, a cop. They did the things society encourages us to do, like make a mark, become successful, buy a home, raise a family, pursue happiness.

People on the first mountain spend a lot of time on reputation management. They ask: What do people think of me? Where do I rank? They’re trying to win the victories the ego enjoys.

These hustling years are also powerfully shaped by our individualistic and meritocratic culture. People operate under this assumption: I can make myself happy. If I achieve excellence, lose more weight, follow this self-improvement technique, fulfillment will follow.

But in the lives of the people I’m talking about — the ones I really admire — something happened that interrupted the linear existence they had imagined for themselves. Something happened that exposed the problem with living according to individualistic, meritocratic values.

Some of them achieved success and found it unsatisfying. They figured there must be more to life, some higher purpose. Others failed. They lost their job or endured some scandal. Suddenly they were falling, not climbing, and their whole identity was in peril. Yet another group of people got hit sideways by something that wasn’t part of the original plan. They had a cancer scare or suffered the loss of a child. These tragedies made the first-mountain victories seem, well, not so important.

Life had thrown them into the valley, as it throws most of us into the valley at one point or another. They were suffering and adrift.

Some people are broken by this kind of pain and grief. They seem to get smaller and more afraid, and never recover. They get angry, resentful and tribal.

But other people are broken open. The theologian Paul Tillich wrote that suffering upends the normal patterns of life and reminds you that you are not who you thought you were. The basement of your soul is much deeper than you knew. Some people look into the hidden depths of themselves and they realize that success won’t fill those spaces. Only a spiritual life and unconditional love from family and friends will do. They realize how lucky they are. They are down in the valley, but their health is O.K.; they’re not financially destroyed; they’re about to be dragged on an adventure that will leave them transformed.

They realize that while our educational system generally prepares us for climbing this or that mountain, your life is actually defined by how you make use of your moment of greatest adversity.

So how does moral renewal happen? How do you move from a life based on bad values to a life based on better ones?

First, there has to be a period of solitude, in the wilderness, where self-reflection can occur.

“What happens when a ‘gifted child’ finds himself in a wilderness where he’s stripped away of any way of proving his worth?” Belden Lane asks in “Backpacking With the Saints.” What happens where there is no audience, nothing he can achieve? He crumbles. The ego dissolves. “Only then is he able to be loved.”

That’s the key point here. The self-centered voice of the ego has to be quieted before a person is capable of freely giving and receiving love.

Then there is contact with the heart and soul — through prayer, meditation, writing, whatever it is that puts you in contact with your deepest desires.

“In the deeps are the violence and terror of which psychology has warned us,” Annie Dillard writes in “Teaching a Stone to Talk.” “But if you ride these monsters deeper down, if you drop with them farther over the world’s rim, you find what our sciences cannot locate or name, the substrate, the ocean or matrix or ether which buoys the rest, which gives goodness its power for good, and evil its power for evil, the unified field: our complex and inexplicable caring for each other.”

In the wilderness the desire for esteem is stripped away and bigger desires are made visible: the desires of the heart (to live in loving connection with others) and the desires of the soul (the yearning to serve some transcendent ideal and to be sanctified by that service).

When people are broken open in this way, they are more sensitive to the pains and joys of the world. They realize: Oh, that first mountain wasn’t my mountain. I am ready for a larger journey.

Some people radically change their lives at this point. They quit corporate jobs and teach elementary school. They dedicate themselves to some social or political cause. I know a woman whose son committed suicide. She says that the scared, self-conscious woman she used to be died with him. She found her voice and helps families in crisis. I recently met a guy who used to be a banker. That failed to satisfy, and now he helps men coming out of prison. I once corresponded with a man from Australia who lost his wife, a tragedy that occasioned a period of reflection. He wrote, “I feel almost guilty about how significant my own growth has been as a result of my wife’s death.”

Perhaps most of the people who have emerged from a setback stay in their same jobs, with their same lives, but they are different. It’s not about self anymore; it’s about relation, it’s about the giving yourself away. Their joy is in seeing others shine.

In their book “Practical Wisdom,” Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe tell the story of a hospital janitor named Luke. In Luke’s hospital there was a young man who’d gotten into a fight and was now in a permanent coma. The young man’s father sat with him every day in silent vigil, and every day Luke cleaned the room. But one day the father was out for a smoke when Luke cleaned it.

Later that afternoon, the father found Luke and snapped at him for not cleaning the room. The first-mountain response is to see your job as cleaning rooms. Luke could have snapped back: I did clean the room. You were out smoking. The second-mountain response is to see your job as serving patients and their families. In that case you’d go back in the room and clean it again, so that the father could have the comfort of seeing you do it. And that’s what Luke did.

If the first mountain is about building up the ego and defining the self, the second is about shedding the ego and dissolving the self. If the first mountain is about acquisition, the second mountain is about contribution.

On the first mountain, personal freedom is celebrated — keeping your options open, absence of restraint. But the perfectly free life is the unattached and unremembered life. Freedom is not an ocean you want to swim in; it is a river you want to cross so that you can plant yourself on the other side.

So the person on the second mountain is making commitments. People who have made a commitment to a town, a person, an institution or a cause have cast their lot and burned the bridges behind them. They have made a promise without expecting a return. They are all in.

I can now usually recognize first- and second-mountain people. The former have an ultimate allegiance to self; the latter have an ultimate allegiance to some commitment. I can recognize first- and second-mountain organizations too. In some organizations, people are there to serve their individual self-interests — draw a salary. But other organizations demand that you surrender to a shared cause and so change your very identity. You become a Marine, a Morehouse Man.

I’ve been describing moral renewal in personal terms, but of course whole societies and cultures can swap bad values for better ones. I think we all realize that the hatred, fragmentation and disconnection in our society is not just a political problem. It stems from some moral and spiritual crisis.

We don’t treat one another well. And the truth is that 60 years of a hyper-individualistic first-mountain culture have weakened the bonds between people. They’ve dissolved the shared moral cultures that used to restrain capitalism and the meritocracy.

Over the past few decades the individual, the self, has been at the center. The second-mountain people are leading us toward a culture that puts relationships at the center. They ask us to measure our lives by the quality of our attachments, to see that life is a qualitative endeavor, not a quantitative one. They ask us to see others at their full depths, and not just as a stereotype, and to have the courage to lead with vulnerability. These second-mountain people are leading us into a new culture. Culture change happens when a small group of people find a better way to live and the rest of us copy them. These second-mountain people have found it.

Their moral revolution points us toward a different goal. On the first mountain we shoot for happiness, but on the second mountain we are rewarded with joy. What’s the difference? Happiness involves a victory for the self. It happens as we move toward our goals. You get a promotion. You have a delicious meal.

Joy involves the transcendence of self. When you’re on the second mountain, you realize we aim too low. We compete to get near a little sunlamp, but if we lived differently, we could feel the glow of real sunshine. On the second mountain you see that happiness is good, but joy is better.