Friends, Romans, Countrymen

I’ve tried, really tried, not to be “hair on fire.” I’ve even refrained from posting of late, unsure if anything I say makes a difference.

I’ve tried, really tried, not to be “hair on fire.” I’ve even refrained from posting of late, unsure if anything I say makes a difference.

But given that the GOP Senate is blocking witnesses, rejecting documents, and openly planning to acquit Trump of these serious charges, what we are likely watching is the beginning of the end of a great democracy, and the end of the American experiment.

Sure, there will be an election this November, and it may even be free and fair.

(Are you registered to vote?)

Democrats may prevail and win. If so, there may be a peaceful transfer of power in January, 2021, and we may avoid violence from disappointed – and armed – rabid Trumpers. It’s possible that a Democratic president might manage to turn back some of what Trump has done. (Elizabeth Warren’s plan for what to do when he’s gone is a good place to start. It’s why I support her, and why I think she is the one candidate who truly senses the depth of the problem and what to do about it.)

But those are a lot of “maybes,” and a lot of the damage is already done. The damage has been done to the kids who’ve been snatched away from their parents, of course. Damage has been done to the legal system for the next generation, too: Trump has appointed 1 in 4 federal judges, many of them ranked as “unqualified.”

But most nationally disastrous, damage has been done to the rule of law, and to the U.S. Constitution.

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The Founders anticipated Trump. They knew that someone unscrupulous might try to cheat in an election, to use the Presidency for personal gain, to try to assume dictatorial – even monarchical – powers. The Founders knew and feared that a POTUS might even coordinate or collude with a foreign power – or even sell out to that foreign power – to try to win an election.

What they didn’t foresee was that the Congress would willingly – even eagerly – give up its power to that President, would abandon the system of checks and balances – and in so doing would refuse to do their Constitutional duty to hold a President accountable for his crimes and abuse of office.

In short, the Founders foresaw a Trump. But they did not foresee a McConnell, or a Nunes, a Lamar Alexander, or a Murkowski.

I have a theory as to why the Founders didn’t see this coming: I think that the Congress was biased towards Congress: too convinced of the smarts and good will of future congressmen. The Constitution’s framers, being a congress themselves, had too secure a faith in their successors’ wisdom and comity. I believe that they were certain that a future Congress (especially the Senate – supposedly a wiser and cooler-headed body) would defend against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and would uphold the oaths they swore to the American people. That bound together by law, they would find ways to uphold that law. 

If that’s the case, they made a disastrous mistake – a catastrophic miscalculation.

What we are watching right now is a party in power willingly – even eagerly – refusing to hold a lawbreaking president accountable to the law. They’re agreeing to hold a sham trial, denigrating the Constitution, and ceding dictatorial powers to a demagogue.


This doesn’t end well, as we’ve seen. Let me offer two examples.


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I’ve been reading a lot of Roman history, and the Founders did, too.


The Romans were proud of their republic, and had great faith in their Senate – for a time.  But in the late BCE, riven by years of bloody civil war, Julius Caesar amassed much power, and concentrated that power in his own self at the expense of the Senate.

Sensing that Caesar was to be interested in becoming an emperor – and seeing that the Roman people might be primed to welcome a strongman to rule over them in an exchange for peace – some Senators tried to eliminate the threat to the Republic by assassinating Caesar.

As it turned out, Caesar’s assassination only brought about another era of bloody civil war, which pushed the people to welcome his relative, Octavian, as his successor. Soon Octavian was proclaimed Emperor, god, and dictator for life. The Senate still existed, but in a zombie form: oligarchs amassed wealth and rubber-stamped the decisions of an increasingly dangerous and insane series of emperors, self-proclaimed gods, and dictators.


Though Brutus and his conspirators hoped to save the republic by Caesar’s assassination, this rash and bloody action only hastened the republic’s death, paving the way for an Emperor. The people – and the remaining Senators themselves – welcomed the Emperors and declined to return to the Roman Republic. The Roman Senate voted again and again to give up their own rights to dictator after dictator, Caesar after Caesar, for hundreds of years – and in doing so voted away their own rights and sometimes their lives.

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Here’s another example from the more recent past. (And yes, I know about Godwin’s Law… but I think the rules have changed. So does Godwin, apparently.)

I’ve also been reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Reminder: Hitler was elected, and was elected by using some of the same tactics that Trump has used: xenophobia, racism, rabid nationalism, propaganda: “Make Germany Great Again.” “Lugenpresse.” Hitler, too, told the people everything that he wanted to do: the people who voted for him either agreed with him, or did not take him seriously. 

Meanwhile, the establishment figures of the German republic at the time of Hitler’s rise thought that they could control him, or that he would grow into the job, or that he didn’t really mean the things he said. The Weimar government made alliances with him, finally welcoming him into power after unrest and economic depression, since they saw his power over the crowd.

They made a miscalculation that Hitler’s strength would rub off on them. Instead he subsumed them, or wiped them out. It led to catastrophe in Germany – and across the world.

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Is Trump Julius Caesar? Is Trump Augustus, or Hitler, or anyone else? No: Trump is Trump, and is dangerous for who he is, what he says, and what he does. I’m just pointing out what can happen – what has happened – when an elected body gives up its power to a strongman.

Let’s be clear: Trump withheld White House meetings, and millions of dollars of Congressionally mandated aid, from a desperate ally, holding this support and until the President of Ukraine agreed to investigate one of Trump’s chief domestic political rivals. 

This much is not in doubt: Trump himself admitted it. His chief of staff admitted it, and told us to “get over it.” Even the heavily redacted document Trump released shows his quid pro quo. 

The cause was fake: Ukraine did not meddle in the 2016 election, as Trump asserts.

The purpose was corrupt: Trump was trying to cheat in the 2020 election by trying to smear Biden, who Trump feared as his possible Democratic opponent.

Trump has refused to testify, blocked witnesses, hidden documents, rejected subpoenas, deployed character assassination against anyone who speaks up against him.

His Republican minions –McConnell, Pence, Barr, and all the GOP Representatives in the House, and thus far, all 53 GOP Senators – have shielded him from accountability.

They are like the Roman Senators who willingly voted away their own rights and gave them to a dictator.

They are like Hindenburg and von Papen and the leaders of the Weimar parties, who thought they could work with and even control Hitler in the early 1930’s.

If Trump is not removed from office, the Congress of the United States is saying that a president can abuse his office, defy the law, withhold documents, deny subpoenas, cheat in elections, assert that he can’t be investigated, prosecuted, or indicted, or impeached. They agree, as Trump asserts falsely – and chillingly – the Constitution gives him unlimited power: Then I have an Article II, where I have the right to do whatever I want as president.”  

Do YOU believe a president can indeed do anything he wants, as long as his party is in the majority in the Senate, and as long as he has a compliant attorney general, for as long as he can spread his propaganda?

If the Congress acquits him, as it looks like it is going to do, then the American experiment is at the beginning of the end. We may limp through some future presidencies – or Trump may, indeed, stick around, as Putin does, and as Trump has threatened to do. (Sure, he’s just joking. Over and over and over. And his supporters seem to think it’s a good idea.)

One way or the other, if not Trump himself, there’s someone out there who’s learing the lessons of the Trump era. Someone is out there now, waiting to see what the Senate does, waiting to see if the country will apply the law to an unlawful president. That person is wondering how she or he can use Trump Rules to their own advantage. That person will be smarter than Trump, and will wield their power more cleverly, to the detriment of Americans’ liberty.

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There is one hope: VOTE. Once again: make sure you are registered to vote – not just for President, but for every election, every time. And “Vote Blue No Matter Who,” at every level, up and down the ticket, from dogcatcher to President. Vote your preference at the primary, but when it comes to the general: even if you aren’t crazy about the Democrat, vote for him or her anyway. A blue tide in 2020 is the only thing that has the hope of washing away Trump and his congressional GOP minions.

We also have to MARCH.

We also have to SPEAK OUT while we can.

If you can RUN FOR OFFICE, do it.

That’s it. Our Congress is not going to save us.

 The Republicans are not going to save us. 

The Generals and the “adults in the room” are not going to save us.

We have to do what we can to save our democracy, while we still can.

Maybe – just maybe – we can still turn a “beginning of the end” into a new beginning.

But it had better be quick, and soon. It better be NOW. Or we’re in bigger trouble than most people realize.

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