April 18, 2018

James Comey compares President Trump to a mobster, and Brian Beutler thinks it's an apt comparison.

“I sat there thinking, Holy crap, they are trying to make each of us ‘amica nostra’—friend of ours. To draw us in,” Comey writes. “As crazy as it sounds, I suddenly had the feeling that, in the blink of an eye, the president-elect was trying to make us all part of the same family and that Team Trump had made it a ‘thing of ours.’”

... Comey’s epiphany is timely. Trump’s political method mixes mass tribalism with the kind of mob-like conscription of notionally ethical elite individuals that Comey describes in his book. He used this method to co-opt and compromise Republicans in Congress during the election, and has used it as president to avoid congressional oversight and to discredit law enforcement officers investigating him. Those who resist his recruitment efforts, like Comey and a handful of elected GOP officials, get fired, or attacked, or driven out of political life.

I'd say that Trump isn't exactly like a mobster -- mobsters compel loyalty by threatening physical violence, not loss of tribal membership. Trump won't have that anonymous congressman killed if he starts denouncing Trump publicly the way he did privately to Erick Erickson -- he'll just see to it that the GOP electorate withdraws its support and ruins the congressman's career, with a lot of help from the right-wing media.

Beutler believes that Trump could terrorize major figures in D.C. for years to come.

And with the rule of law closing in on him from multiple directions now, he will use the same method in an attempt to save his presidency, even if it means permanently corrupting the political system of the United States....

What we know to a near certainty is that as the heat increases, Trump will try to enlist more and more people into “this thing of his” as his only means of political survival—and perhaps as his only means of sparing those friends of his from justice.

He will extort support from the ranks of Republican officialdom, which may already be too tainted by allegiance to Trump to credibly sever ties with its criminal leader.

Most corrosively, he will conscript more and more of his supporters into the ethical netherworld of Trumpism, convincing millions of Americans to scoff at ethics and law, and serve instead as a human-political shield around him, so that he can’t be removed from office. This process would serve to normalize his gangster ethic across large swaths of the country, among a radicalized pro-Trump cohort that will be around to poison civic life in America long after Trump has exited the stage.

The only part of this I disagree with is the part about "conscript[ing] more and more of his supporters into the ethical netherworld of Trumpism." Who's left to conscript? Who hasn't been conscripted already? Haven't all his supporters, including the entire Republican congressional delegation, made it clear that, in their opinion, nothing Trump can do would cross an ethical red line? Isn't their terror at the possibility of losing the deplorables' support absolute and unwavering?

This is why, when I see McClatchy's claim that Robert Mueller has proof Michael Cohen went to Prague in 2016, I can't agree with BooMan:

If Michael Cohen went to Prague, then Donald Trump will be impeached, convicted, and removed from office, assuming he doesn’t resign.

... the central accusation of the Steele Dossier is that Cohen was the Trump’s campaign’s main contact with the Russians after Paul Manafort was fired, and that he went to Prague because Moscow would have been too obvious. While there, he colluded with the Russians on a host of issues, including on how to compensate Romanian hackers, how to manage the fallout from the Manafort flameout and how to explain Carter Page’s recent trip to Moscow....

If he was in Prague, he was there for the reasons the Steele dossier said he was there. And if that is the case, then the case for collusion is proven beyond any shadow of a doubt.

Yeah, and so? Why does that guarantee impeachment and conviction? Do you think even open-and-shut evidence of collusion will deter the Trump cult? Cohen went to Prague on his own volition. Evidence that Cohen went to Prague was falsely generated by the Deep State. What's wrong with Cohen talking to people? Define "hacker." And isn't that Seth Rich murder still unsolved? And hey, do we really want to undergo a painful constitutional crisis, a mere twenty or so years after the last impeachment?

There's no chance of 67 votes to convict an impeached Trump no matter what he's done, unless perhaps the Republicans have suffered a midterm blowout so overwhelming it exceeds their most pessimistic scenarios. The Republican survivors of 2018 will have to believe they can't possibly get through another election cycle if they stand by Trump -- that's the only way they'll have the courage to leave the Mob.

But GOP voters will never abandon Trump, and gerrymandering and clustering mean that Republicans will stick with what their voters want. So Beutler is right that Trumpist corruption is probably with us at least until 2020, because everyone Trump needs in his "ethical netherworld" is already there.

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