President Ivanka?

Let’s do some fun speculation today!

Mike Pence might want to start sleeping with one eye open (gripping his pillow tight). Donald Trump’s trip to Japan and the Korean peninsula was predictably weird, ending with his impromptu play date with Kim Jong-un at the DMZ serving as a climax to an already botched excursion in which Royal Princess Ivanka Trump was crowbarred into the proceedings for some reason.

Cutting right to the chase, I think it might be possible that Lord Dampnut is grooming Ivanka, rather than Trump Jr., to succeed him. This is a move that would solve a couple of Trump’s most harrowing problems.

There’s apparently a rumor circulating among Republican circles in Washington in which Trump suddenly declines the nomination sometime next summer, presumably for health reasons, then lobbies the convention delegates to toss their votes to Ivanka as his rightful heir and the 2020 nominee.

Don’t shoot the messenger! It’s an actual thing, as far as rumors go anyway. Here’s some possible calculus behind such a radical move.

There are two possible ways for Trump to avoid federal charges when he leaves office (assuming he leaves office): One is that the next president decides not to investigate the previous president and orders his attorney general and U.S. attorneys to back off, like Obama did with the Bush administration. The other is a presidential pardon.

The first option is definitely a possibility. Newly inaugurated presidents have never really allowed their attorneys general to investigate the previous gang regardless of what they’ve done. It’s a long-standing tradition, for better or worse, that if interrupted, could trigger an endless cycle of vengeance in which each new president pursues criminal charges against the former president of the other party.

Trump’s ascension launched a new paradigm for presidential politics however, with social media users and especially Trumpers driving the rejection of old presidential traditions. So it might be possible for, say, former prosecutor Kamala Harris to deviate from tradition and go for the indictment of her predecessor. As long as she’s willing to risk being investigated should a Republican succeed her, she could easily do it. Same goes for the other leading candidates. I don’t think anyone would lose sleep over this, other than some historians and anyone with the last name “Trump.”

The second option requires a move that Trump has explicitly stated he’ll never make: Resigning the presidency. Trump said recently, “I don’t leave,” which was an utterly chilling remark for those of us who still hope for a peaceful transfer of power. There’s always a possibility that Trump will refuse to accept the results of the 2020 election if he loses.

Of course, the inauguration of the next president on Jan. 20, 2021, would likely just proceed without him, maybe with Trump hunkered down inside the White House. Under the Constitution, the new president takes office at noon on Inauguration Day, no matter what the old one does.

No one knows exactly how that would work, given it’s never happened before, but chances are the screeching on Trump’s Twitter feed wouldn’t prevent the next president from being recognized as the rightful chief executive. That would largely depend on how much backup he gets from Republicans in congress though.

Even if you take “I don’t leave” to mean Trump doesn’t plan on resigning, at some point, Trump might realize there’s only one solid, reliable way to keep himself from being indicted after leaving office. Perhaps as more Democratic presidential candidates announce their intentions to prosecute Trump and other conspirators, as Beto O’Rourke did in the debates last week.

He’ll need to step down and allow his vice president to be sworn in. That new president is the only human being who can realistically, legally and legitimately pardon Trump. It’s the Nixon/Ford scenario of 1974.

There’s obviously the nightmare scenario in which Trump is re-elected next year, forestalling an indictment. That still doesn’t get him off the hook entirely, though. Trump can’t legitimately pardon himself (probably). Even this Supreme Court might not permit such a preposterous move.

If he thought he could do it himself, he likely would’ve done it already. The next Republican president, meanwhile, has to wait until the 2024 election, but Trump could already be in prison by then.

If Trump wants a foolproof escape hatch, it has to be a resignation followed by a pardon.

That’s where Princess Ivanka comes in.

There’s an outlier chance the rumor is true and Trump will try to install Ivanka as the nominee, replacing himself at the top of the 2020 ticket, with a pardon waiting in the on-deck circle. But I’m not sure she would have a better shot at winning than her dad. Then again, Trump’s rise to power means anything’s possible.

Assuming he doesn’t pursue this radical notion of persuading the convention to nominate Ivanka in his stead, I see a chance Trump might replace Mike Pence with Ivanka as his running mate.

Before you poo-poo the idea, bear in mind four things:

1) Trump is now the nominal head of the party.

2) The Republican National Committee has basically merged with the Trump re-election campaign

3) Mike Pence’s name was conspicuously absent from the campaign signs and other materials during Trump’s kickoff event in Orlando (was he even there? I can’t recall).

4) Ivanka was conspicuously present schmoozing with world leaders at the G20 in Osaka over the weekend.

Despite Pence’s groveling loyalty, Trump might want to bring the vice presidency into the family. That would ensure that if Trump needs a pardon, it’s waiting for him no matter what. Remember, the Trump crime family is all about Mafia-style omertà and unquestioning loyalty (to the boss anyway). Who knows if a hypothetical President Pence would want to spend what little political capital he would have on a pardon?

That might not be in Pence’s self-interest. With a Trump/Trump ticket, dad is free to resign at any time after he’s sworn in for a second term, followed by an immediate pardon from his daughter, the new president. And as a bonus, the Trump dynasty is established!

Trump’s only other option is to try to invalidate the 2020 election if he loses, and he’s already starting to lay the groundwork for such a plot. He’d probably need a hell of a lot more than a kooky conspiracy theory about nonexistent California voter fraud to convince even this Supreme Court to overturn a legitimate vote in the Electoral College though.

We should prepare ourselves for the possibility that Trump will stop at nothing to keep himself out of prison. Even a traditional, by-the-book Trump re-election would only be a temporary measure. Some are predicting New York will step in to slap him with state charges. But New York’s attorney general is pursuing civil charges rather than criminal charges at the moment, so relying on the Empire State to pick up the slack is iffier than you might think.

The only way Trump gets prosecuted for obstruction of justice and other charges arising from the Mueller Report, or anything else in his galactic series of potential crimes, is via a Democratic administration’s attorney general. The only way he avoids those charges is through a pardon or the next president’s refusal to prosecute. I don’t believe Trump plans to leave his fortunes to the tender mercies of a President Sanders or President Warren. And I don’t think he trusts anyone outside his inner circle to pardon him.

The best-case scenario for the nation is a Trump loss in 2020 and a Democratic presidential inauguration in 2021, with Trump’s prosecution proceeding soon thereafter. He has to see this possibility growing larger through the front windshield every day. So, he’ll have to do some shuffling to maximize his successor’s loyalty while doing whatever is necessary to win re-election. Ivanka could be his version of the Chernobyl reactor’s AZ-5 button, his failsafe mechanism to abort any possible prison time.

They Haven’t Learned

The media showered Donald Trump with unnecessary attention all last week in honor of his re-election rally kickoff in Orlando, Florida. The coverage was so reminiscent of 2016, that it raises fresh concerns about whether the news media has learned anything from previous campaign about covering a whiny bully like Trump. Will journalists still view him through the lens of celebrity and hold him to almost no substantive standards, while echoing his lies and bogus attacks on his enemies?

Coming off the monumental failure of 2016, the press seems poised to stumble through another campaign to failure. Especially since, following the 2016 debacle, many in the press refused to concede that any mistakes had been made, let alone offer up much serious self-reflection.

It’s likely the White House loved how rally week played out, with an avalanche of coverage that mostly regurgitated Trump’s stale, familiar rally speech, which leans heavily on victimhood. One of the media themes regarding Trump’s event was that, with his endless attacks on Hillary Clinton, he’s stuck in the past.

But the same point can be made about the press, which seems determined to hit rewind for 2020. And that means a return of the circus-like, spectacle-type campaign coverage Lord Dampnut loves.

Last week the press sent some 500 journalists to Orlando for the indoor event. But what exactly was the point of the endless media attention, considering that Trump has held more than 50 rallies since taking office?

Trump talking = news is a ridiculous formula for newsrooms to be using in 2019. Yet last week, ABC News adopted the premise, when the network aired an hour-long prime-time special of, well, Trump talking. There was no news hook for the unusual programming event, which featured ABC’s George Stephanopoulos shadowing Trump over the course of two days and recording Trump lying relentlessly. Not surprisingly, it was a ratings flop.

Still, the press seems committed to the idea that every Trump utterance is wildly important and newsworthy. Here’s how The New York Times reported Trump’s rally:

“President Trump delivered a fierce denunciation of the news media, the political establishment and what he called his radical opponents on Tuesday as he opened his re-election campaign in front of a huge crowd of raucous supporters by evoking the dark messaging and personal grievances that animated his 2016 victory.”

Subtract the phrase “opened his re-election campaign,” and that paragraph could have easily been published during any month in the last four years. We’ve seen this Trump show over and over and over, to the point where it’s quite obviously not news. Weirdly enough, the Times acknowledged that fact in its report, “in the end, it was not so different from the dozens of rallies he has held during the past two years” yet they still treated the rally as front-page news.

In fact, lots of other journalists commented on the ho-hum nature of the event. CNN’s Betsy Klein wrote on Twitter, “I was promised new material.” The Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty added, “When Hillary Clinton runs in 2020, Trump is totally ready for her.”

In others words, Trump hyped up the rally as a huge event. The press played along and treated it that way, even though reporters in real time conceded the rally was something of a big fat nothingburger. Guess who walks away the winner in that scenario. To its credit, MSNBC did not carry Trump’s rally live Tuesday night, while CNN broke away after five minutes (although they did show his empty podium for a while). Naturally, Fox News aired the event in its entirety.

And yes, the rally coverage featured the hallmark media whitewashing that so often protects Trump supporters from the harsh glare of reality. Trump was met in Orlando by “cheering and chanting supporters,” reported USA Today, and by “thousands of adoring supporters,” according to Politico.

Both of those cheerful descriptions remind me of the bland, innocuous ways his supporters were often described in 2016. What has traditionally been missing from the nonstop deluge of Trump voter stories? A look into the dark nature of Trump Nation, and an open acknowledgment that his base is often fueled by racism.

Trump’s candidacy was driven by immigrant-bashing, and so too has his presidency. But when journalists profile his faithful supporters, acknowledgment of Trump’s racist rhetoric rarely comes up. The problem with that type of whitewashing is that the Orlando rally attracted throngs of white nationalists, who clearly have become part of the Trump’s political coalition, and whose presence was not mentioned in most press reports. The whole fascist vibe of the rallies is badly underplayed by the press.

Trump spouting off doesn’t qualify as news. But will the press acknowledge that before 2020?

The Next Nightmare

Polls currently show that all of the major Democratic presidential candidates are pulling way ahead of Donald Trump. While Democrats should take nothing for granted, there is at least some reason hope that Americans will turn out in large numbers and Trump will be soundly defeated in 2020. That victory would be both exciting and an enormous relief, a moment when we can collectively begin to believe that the national nightmare is ending.

If that does happen, the next nightmare will likely begin. It may be minutes, hours, days, or even weeks, but at some point between Election Day November 2020 and Inauguration Day January 2021, odds are that Trump will declare that the election was “fake news” and refuse to vacate the White House. There will be no peaceful transfer of power.

This past weekend showed some disturbing signs of this. Internal polls commissioned by the Trump campaign were leaked, showing that he is trailing badly in several battleground states. In response, Trump angrily called the polls “fake” and then fired the pollsters.

He also suggested on Twitter (where else?) that it was possible “the people would demand that I stay longer” than two terms of office, using his joking-not-joking strategy to suggest that he’s not hemmed in by laws or the Constitution when it comes to retaining power.

A talking point of Democrats who are reluctant to begin an impeachment inquiry is that Trump needs to be removed at the ballot box, not by impeachment. The argument is that Trump can’t be removed from office through impeachment since Republicans, who control the Senate, will refuse to convict him no matter how much evidence there is. Which is true. With rare exceptions, Republicans have shown that there is no level of criminality Trump could display that they are unwilling to accept, so long as it allows them to retain power.

But it’s also why there’s a real danger that, if and when Trump refuses to leave office after an electoral defeat, Republicans will go along with it. And why not? They haven’t drawn any line yet when it comes to Trump cheating or breaking the law. On the contrary, Republicans were already flouting the law in their attempts to retain control over all levels of the government even though a majority of Americans have rejected them at the polls. So far, there appears to be no limits to what Republicans will allow, so long as it entrenches their power.

Republicans have been doing it even before Trump came along. Gerrymandering and voter suppression efforts predated his candidacy, taking off in earnest after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. Mitch McConnell refused to hold any hearings for Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, on totally bogus pretenses so he could hold the seat open for a Republican president to fill. This trend goes back to the 2000 Bush v. Gore decision, in which the Supreme Court’s conservative majority handed George W. Bush the presidency rather than allowing a recount in Florida.

McConnell’s response to the Russian criminal conspiracy to undermine the last election has been to reject any effort to prevent such conspiracies in the future. Bills have been written and passed by the House to shore up election security and McConnell simply refuses to bring them for a vote. Trump made clear, in his interview last week with George Stephanopoulos, that he fully intends to cheat in 2020 the same way he cheated in 2016. McConnell’s response has basically been, “Cool!”

Republicans are so complicit in Trump’s criminality that it is simply a statement of fact to note there is no chance that the Senate would vote to convict Trump in an impeachment trial, no matter how serious his crimes are. If they refuse to throw him out for being a criminal, why would they throw him out because he lost an election?

We have to presume that Trump and the Republicans will not be hemmed in by law or custom when it comes to holding onto power they haven’t earned. It would be deeply unwise for Democrats to pin their hopes on the possibility that Trump will suddenly, after all this time, become the kind of man who would admit he lost an election, or that Republicans will finally decide that there’s such thing as “going too far” when it comes to taking power in defiance of democratic will.

How should we deal with it when Trump declares the election void and Republicans back his play? The time to plan for that is now. Being caught flat-footed and scrambling to catch up will only make it easier for Trump to entrench the idea that his hold on the White House is absolute, just as he and Republicans have entrenched the idea that it’s normal and acceptable for the Senate to refuse to convict him no matter what.

Unless Democrats move swiftly and forcefully when Trump refuses to leave the White House, (and they need to plan for “when,” not “if”) Republicans will be able to make the Trump Dynasty feel inevitable, as they’ve done with other successful efforts at gutting American democracy.

Workers Unite

Americans are not happy. And for good reason: We continue to suffer financial stress caused by decades of flat income. On top of that, every time we make the slightest suggestion that the system might be working in our favor, the rich and powerful tell us to shut up because it’s actually all our own fault.

The one percenters tell us to just work harder, pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and stop bellyaching. Just get a second college degree, a second skill, a second job. Just send the spouse to work, downsize, and take a staycation instead of a real vacation. Or better yet, don’t take one at all, just work harder and longer and better.

The barrage of blaming has worked, workers believe they deserve censure, and that’s a big part of the reason so many are unhappy. If only, they think, they could work harder and longer and better, they would get ahead. They bear the shame. They don’t blame the system: the Supreme Court, the Congress, the president. And yet, it is the system, the American system, which has conspired to crush everyone who isn’t already rich and/or powerful.

Sure, unemployment is low and the stock market is up. But skyrocketing stocks benefit only the top 10 percent of Americans who own 84 percent of stocks. And while more people are employed now than during the Great Recession, the vast majority of Americans haven’t had a real raise since 1979. Forty years ago!

But if Americans would just work harder, everything would be dandy, right?

No. Not right. Americans already work really, really hard. A third of Americans work a side hustle, driving an Uber or selling crafts on Etsy. American workers take fewer vacation days. They get 14, but typically take only 10. The highest number of workers in five years report they don’t expect to take a vacation at all this year. And Americans work longer hours than their counterparts in other countries.

Americans labor 137 more hours (almost 3 ½ weeks) per year than Japanese workers, 260 (6 ½ weeks) more than Brits, and 499 more hours (12 ½ weeks!) than the French, according to the International Labor Organization.

The longer hours aren’t because American workers are laggards on the job either. They’re very productive. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates that the average American worker’s productivity has increased 400 percent since 1950!

If pay had kept pace with productivity, as it did in the three decades after the end of World War II, American workers would be making 400 percent more. But they’re not. Wages have flatlined for four decades when adjusted for inflation.

That means stress. Forty percent of workers say they don’t have $400 for an unexpected expense. Twenty percent can’t pay all of their monthly bills. More than a quarter of adults skipped needed medical care last year because they couldn’t afford it. A quarter of adults have no retirement savings.

Despite the right-wing’s attempts to pound that into Americans’ heads, it’s not the solution. Americans are clearly working harder and longer and better. The solution is to change the system, which is stacked against workers.

Workers are bearing on their backs tax breaks that benefit only the rich and corporations. They’re bearing overtime pay rules and minimum wage rates that haven’t been updated in more than a decade. They’re weighted down by U.S. Supreme Court decisions that hobble unionization efforts and kneecapped workers’ rights to file class-action lawsuits. They’re struggling under U.S. Department of Labor rules defining them as independent contractors instead of staff members. They live in fear as corporations threaten to offshore their jobs.

The administration, the Supreme Court, and right-wingers in Congress grovel before corporations and the rich. Look at the tax break they gave one percenters in 2017. Corporations got the biggest cut in history, their rate sledgehammered down from 35 percent to 21 percent. That doesn’t even take into account loopholes and other dodges that corporations use. Last month, it was widely reported that dozens of the largest American companies paid zero taxes on their profits.

The White House Council of Economic Advisers predicted the corporate tax cut would put an extra $4,000 in every worker’s pocket. They claimed that corporations would use their tax cut money to hand out raises and bonuses to workers. That didn’t happen. Just as many critics of the tax bill predicted. It was an easy prediction because corporate tax cuts have never led to increased wages for employees outside of the executive officer tier. Workers on average received a big fat extra $6.21 in their paychecks, for an annual total of a whopping $233. Corporations actually spent their tax breaks on stock buybacks, a record $1 trillion worth, artificially inflating their stock prices, which put more money in the pockets of rich CEOs and shareholders.

This Cowardice Cannot Stand

There is no better encapsulation of the difference between the two American political parties than this: Republicans start from the presumption that “treason” and “spying” will be prosecuted without evidence, while Democrats start from the presumption that only once they have seen all the evidence of everything ever, they might conclude that some further investigation is warranted.

Donald Trump leads deranged stadium rallies in chanting “lock them up” without even specifying who committed what crime. Democrats, faced with a case of what would be felony obstruction of justice but for a legal guidance against prosecuting a sitting president, insist that they cannot initiate impeachment proceedings because they need to gather more information.

This isn’t a new problem. Those who feared that the Mueller Report would never be the smoking gun Democrats were dreaming of warned that limiting the scope to criminal obstruction and illegal “collusion” needlessly blocked out a massive range of criminal and impeachable offenses committed by Trump and his confederates.

For House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, political calculus continues to take precedence over the rule of law. That position is becoming more and more untenable, as cracks appear in the Democratic front and even a Republican member of Congress is able to point out what is right in front of us. “Mueller’s report reveals that President Trump engaged in specific actions and a pattern of behavior that meet the threshold for impeachment,” GOP Rep. Justin Amash understands what is obvious to anyone who has read the Mueller report in good faith: We have more than enough data to name and investigate the crime. Amash has been joined by a fistful of renegade Democrats who are finally content to say “we know enough.” If not enough to impeach, then at least enough to initiate an inquiry.

The problem is that if congressional Democrats refuse to see the big picture, after the staggering proof put forth in the Mueller report, the daily reports of gross financial misconduct and corruption, and the administration’s growing refusal to accede to any form of congressional oversight, one has to wonder what hypothetical evidence might persuade them that, um, CRIMES.

Perhaps some belief in Trump’s infamous boast that he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot a man without losing support has spooked Democrats to the point of paralysis. The reality is that Democratic Leaders on the Hill know what criminal obstruction looks like, they’re just too terrified to say so. At any rate, I would stay off of Fifth Avenue.

The other problem is that House Democrats want to look like measured and rational adults in the face of the biggest toddler tantrum ever witnessed in presidential history, one in which the Constitution is being re-purposed as a diaper. But as any parent or even uncertified Red Cross babysitter will tell you, every time you decline to impose consequences, you move the line for acceptable behavior a little further.

Mueller is himself trying to look measured and rational by demurring from testifying. Looking adult and rational in the face of abject insanity is not always synonymous with bravery, especially when the other side is shouting TREASON and LOCK THEM UP and INVESTIGATE THE INVESTIGATORS.

“But wait!” Democratic leadership might say. “What’s the downside of these drawn-out court fights brought on by what is itself impeachable conduct?” (See: Article III of the Nixon impeachment articles). The downside is the appearance that there is virtually nothing Trump could do to trigger an impeachment proceeding, something Trump sees, relishes, and will bank on in whatever he does next.

Democrats who say they want to focus on the economy, or the 2020 elections, or other “kitchen table” issues give up more and more authority to the reckless, power-snatching Gröpenführer by the day. By attaching no real consequence, they are essentially telling the country that Steven Mnuchin can keep defying House subpoenas of the president’s tax records and Donald McGahn can keep refusing to testify on obstruction of justice.

In ceding that power to Trump, who already believes himself to be all-powerful, they’re making it so.