Rude Awakening

Watercolor of Rip Van Winkle, by Arthur Rackham, image courtesy

An illusory journey, an American tale.

November 8:

After the elections, AG Merrick Garland may appoint a Special Counsel to oversee bringing indictments against the Trump Administration (1)

I am a septuagenarian, and as my short-term memory may be iffy, please explain to me — am I having a ‘Rip Van Winkle moment?’

Haven’t we been here before?

Is Trump still President?

November 18:

Today with press in attendance, AG Merrick Garland announced that he had appointed Jack Smith, “special counsel” in charge of pursuing possible criminal charges in both investigations by the DOJ in the matter of “Donald Trump v. United States.” The determination to file criminal charges would remain the purview of the AG. (2)

Haven’t we been here before?

Is Trump still President?

In the spring of 2017 due to questions surrounding Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential Election, a special counsel was appointed by then Deputy Attorney General Ron Rosenstein. (3) The Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, issued his report which cited evidence of collusion and obstruction of justice by the White House and the Trump Presidential Campaign.

Mueller’s report, which recommended referral for legal charges of obstruction, was largely ignored by Attorney General William Barr. As if on cue, the day after Barr’s announcement declaring no evidence of ‘collusion,’ the ‘collusion-exonerated’ President got on the phone with Ukraine President Zelensky. The ‘perfect phone call,’ as Trump would describe it, solicited information from Zelensky damaging to former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, a political opponent.

The remaining question, who is accountable went unanswered. To this day, though there have been subpoena deals with Barr, and testimony under oath, there has been no obstruction of justice referral. (4) Will Barr walk, held unaccountable for terminating Mueller’s report without cause?

Is Trump still President?

With the inciting of a mob to prevent the certification of President-elect Joseph R. Biden, on and before January 6, evidence and witness testimony were presented to source who planned and incited the illegal obstruction of the peaceful transfer of power — not once but twice. First, by the Senate Judiciary Committee, second, by the House Select Committee to investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol (January 6th Committee).

The remaining question, one of who or what can be held accountable for inciting an insurrection has gone unanswered. No referral. Will Meadows walk? Will Cipollone?

With the delay to ‘criminally refer,’ that is to say, shield evidence-gathering from being perceived as “a political witch hunt,” the J6 Committee has been asked to redefine their mission from reckoning accountability for J6 to rewarding future scholars of history, hardly the task of demonstrating for the public where justice leads — a somethin’ burger made into a “Nothin’ Burger.”

Is Trump still President?

Some will prophesy that as a consequence of Garland’s decision, America will be plagued with further delays, distractions, pleas and legal obfuscation. Trump as candidate, of this one can now be assured, will seek immunity and, despite Garland’s assurances, shelter as candidate for President.

The election of 2024 has kicked off with the accountability for acts committed as President behind closed doors, legal deals, further refusal to provide public record.

Understandably, these are not the consequences Garland intends and perhaps one is ‘wrong’ to attest so. However, we share a common history and a common interest.

In deciding to appoint a “special counsel,” Garland argued that in light of Trump announcing that he was a candidate for President and that the current President, Joseph Biden, had decided — though not in writing — that he was considering running for President in 2024 — that it would appear ‘political’ not to appoint a special counsel. That in light of these developments, it would not be in the public interest not to appoint a special counsel.

As if one can parse the moral from the realpolitik voices echoing at the DOJ, no rebuttals were aired. This would be Garland’s decision and his alone.

Garland has abrogated his ‘place in history,’ ceding a role he did not seek, yet ceding an opportunity his office and rank sustain: to meet the severity of obstruction of justice.

Whom else than the Attorney General? One is left to consider ‘what would a different AG do?’ One other than Garland?

Two possibilities come to mind. One is that the office of the AG is not tasked with ‘investigating’ criminality of a sitting Office of President campaigner, nor resurrecting referrals of same from Congress, which changed party majority on November 9. Translation: Rep. Jim Jordan is now chair of the Congressional Oversight Committee. More than likely is the possibility that Jordan will begin investigating grounds for impeaching Garland. What are the grounds? “Weaponizing the DOJ,” of course.

Unlike Trump and company, pleading the fifth is not in Garland’s toolbox.

The second possibility is that Garland sees his primary role as AG to protect the institutions of the DOJ and the FBI from further assault. The insurrection is alive and well. Overlay maps of guns per capita, states where election denial claims followers, and where elected representatives claim Trump affinity and one gets the picture.

Appointing a “special counsel” will shield Garland and the DOJ from violence and repression. It also means that for the time being, Trump walks.

‘Let’s be clear:’ America is conflating obstructing evidence gathering with rewriting history — what effectively, Trump is attempting:

Where Obama’s rhetoric was expansive — an ongoing effort to create a narrative that included all Americans — Trump’s rhetoric is exclusionary… Trump’s America is like Trump: white, male, straight, besieged, aggressive. His campaign has promised to return his constituents to an imaginary past in which their jobs and daughters were safe from brown-skinned immigrants…in which white people did not have to treat African Americans as equals, women didn’t meddle in politics, gay people didn’t advertise their sexual orientation, and transgender people didn’t exist. (3)

Consider here that a distinction is in order: ‘apolitical’ as opposed to ‘antipolitical’ — exactly what Trump, like most autocrats, forces upon America and yes, with violence, if necessary:

Every political project requires a definition of “us,” the community of people it aims to unite and protect. This is true of both democratic and antidemocratic projects, and is true of nationalist and imperialist projects, and it is true, too, of autocratic attempts, though they are fundamentally antipolitical. Precisely because an autocratic attempt is the opposite of politics, it demands a narrowing definition of “us.” in opposition to an ever greater and more frightening “them.” (4)

When it comes to political intimidation, Trump currently possesses the narrative. Trump has given a political spin to the tried mob boss strategy of perpetrating violence — he traffics in violence out of sight, off stage. He delegates violence. (5)

Consider what the decision to appoint a special counsel make Trump? By appointing a special counsel, Garland has attempted to act expeditiously, as he put in on Friday. In effect, however, Garland’s decision will transform ‘Trump’ into a “special citizen.”

Is this the sound of political hyperbole or the sound of ‘waking up’ to a farce? A political malapropism.

By refusing to address the corruption of the Office under Trump’s tenure, Garland’s decision to remove from public exposure the deeds perpetrated by Trump will confirm the in-accountability of the Office, exacerbated by a citizen, which is who Trump is — not an executive branch, nor a political institution — a citizen.

For Garland a misguided legacy is in play. To appear in public as non-political, has not Garland not only squandered time, but ceded credibility to Trump’s brand of victimhood and vengeance politics?

Has not Garland surrendered to politics?

In Garland’s defense he is sending a clear signal that he does not want the DOJ to be perceived as participating in fomenting political violence. He wants the threats to FBI field offices to stop.

For Garland the attitude is one of sustainability. The challenge for America is do her institutions have the tools to uphold justice. For some Americans, violence is the only tool.

Trump delegates political violence.

Can Garland delegate justice?

November 7–18


1-Glenn Thrush, NYTimes, November 7

Comment: Except for Caren White’s opinion piece, I have not found one criticism of Garland and DOJ’s purpose in appointing a Special Counsel to oversee the twin DOJ investigations. In the annals of investigative reporting, compared to Watergate’s’ ‘deep throat,’ this is more like ‘deep sleep.’ November 8

2-Cite Savage, et. al., NYTimes, Saturday, November 19

3-Masha Gessen, “Throw Off the Mask of Hypocrisy,” from Surviving Autocracy, p. 170–171

4-Gessen, ibid.

5-Gessen, p. 180–183



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