Can Humpty Trumpty be put together again?

May 19, 2017

The Trump White House is swirling further downward with every passing day--but what will it take to get to the final flush, ask Danny Katch and Alan Maass?

DONALD TRUMP'S firing of FBI Director James Comey last week unleashed a legal and political crisis that has intensified with one bombshell revelation after another about his abuses of power and megalomania.

With the Justice Department appointing a special prosecutor to investigate Trump--over the objections of the Tweeter-in-Chief, who had the gall to claim he's the victim of "the single greatest witch hunt in American history"--the once-farfetched idea that Trump might not last a full term in office now seems at least a closer possibility.

Don't expect Trump's downfall by the end of the month, even if the White House doesn't reverse the momentum running against it. In fact, don't discount a Trump rebound if his handlers can somehow rein him in. Trump's main adversary in the internal Washington power struggle is the law enforcement and intelligence services bureaucracy, which more than anything else wants a return to the status quo.

But the Trump administration has unraveled to a spectacular degree in the period of just one week, and it won't be so easy to put Humpty Trumpty back in working order.

Donald Trump

The implications of that go far beyond Washington.

For starters, millions of people are taking pleasure in watching someone they despise singlehandedly wreck his presidency. But the man being exposed as a corrupt ignoramus and pathological liar, who thinks laws are for everyone else but him, is the leader of the "world's greatest democracy."

Masses of people are disgusted by Trump, but their eyes are being opened wider about the system that spawned him.

Or at least they can be. There's a danger that those masses of people will stay spectators--looking on as the battle plays out within the narrow limits of mainstream politics.

The opposition to Trump--which began with sometimes historically large protests demanding women's equality, justice for refugees, an end to anti-immigrant terror, action for climate justice and more--can't be allowed to narrow to the most conservative possible challenge: Anonymous leaks from intelligence officials questioning Trump's patriotism and ability to keep state secrets.

But there is an opportunity for those dedicated to building a resistance--to project a political alternative to the wider system and a right-wing agenda that's far bigger than Trump alone, and to connect layers of people outraged by Trump's crimes and misdemeanors to the many concrete struggles against scapegoating, repression and austerity.

THE LAST week has produced one stranger-than-fiction moment after another.

One day after he fired the head of the FBI in blatant retaliation for investigating his presidential campaign's ties to Russia, Trump held a meeting in the Oval Office with...the Russian foreign minister and ambassador. Not only that, but Trump barred the U.S. media from the meeting--and allowed a photographer from the TASS news agency owned by the Russian government.

And that's not all: Unnamed "current and former U.S. officials" told the Washington Post that Trump had "revealed highly classified information" in the closed meeting--which turned out to be a report from Israeli intelligence alleging an ISIS plot to blow up airplanes with bombs that can be hidden inside electronic devices.

Trump's National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster flatly denied the Post claim--and then Trump tweeted that he could reveal any intelligence he wanted to whoever he wanted. By the end of this week, White House advisers were desperate to avoid making any comments in defense of the administration--for fear their boss's itchy Twitter fingers would contradict them.

Meanwhile, the whole Russians-in-the-Oval-Office circus raised the question of whether we're supposed to trust the word of the most dishonest administration ever or anonymous allegations from intelligence agencies whose mission includes lying to shape public opinion.

But probably the biggest bombshell of all was the news that Comey had written a memo to fellow FBI officials after the White House meeting where Trump apparently asked him to end the FBI's investigation of McMaster's predecessor, Michael Flynn, into whether he lied about his contacts with Russian officials during the campaign.

Now, Republicans in Congress who were trying to ignore the scandal were forced to ask Comey to testify in Senate hearings. And inside Trump's Department of Justice, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced that former FBI Director Robert Mueller would be brought in to oversee the investigation into the White House.

WHAT HAPPENS next is just as unpredictable as the events of the past week.

But whether the machinery of impeachment is dusted off or the right kind of pressure starts building on Trump to resign or his administration stumbles along in an extended state of paralysis, one rule of American politics to bear in mind is that the course of Washington scandals is driven not by legalities, but politics.

The Watergate scandal that brought down Richard Nixon began with a 1972 break-in at Democratic Party national headquarters in the Watergate hotel in Washington, which was ultimately traced to operatives of the Nixon re-election campaign. Criminal behavior, yes--but Nixon paid a price because of the pressures building up in society, most importantly, the anti-Vietnam War movement.

Plenty of presidents have been responsible for more serious crimes than a break-in, but didn't have to resign. On the contrary, they were celebrated.

Until this last week, the Republican Party establishment--representing the interests of much of the U.S. ruling class--was prepared to work with Trump because he could front for their reactionary agenda, including a tax plan to transfer massive sums of money into their bank accounts.

They might hate Trump for taking over their party, but enough other people liked him, despite his historic unpopularity, to elect him president, which is more than any other Republican could say.

That's why Republicans at first pathetically tried to downplay Trump's firing of Comey, an outrageous obstruction of justice by any measure. Now, there's talk of a special prosecutor, congressional hearings and even impeachment. But the real question for the GOP isn't whether Trump broke the law, but whether he's still an asset or has become a liability in looting the country.

So has he become a liability? No one should forget the crimes that the Trump administration continues to commit, despite the fevered pitch of scandal.

On Wednesday alone, the Department of Homeland Security hired the notoriously anti-immigrant Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, and the Washington Post reported that Betsy DeVos' Education Department budget will call for cutting college work-study programs in half and eliminating public-service loan forgiveness in order to transfer billions into school privatization schemes.

Plus, certain parts of the establishment have a stake in seeing the administration carry on with minimal disruption--for example, a collection of military brass, hawkish foreign policy "experts" and military contractors representing a program for a more aggressive U.S. military.

But on the big-ticket items that Wall Street and Corporate America are drooling over, like the massive tax cut theft, Trump looks more and more like a distraction, which could fuel attempts--subtle and not-so-subtle--to get him out of the picture.

BUT THE main opposition to the Trump White House right now isn't coming from Republicans, but the apparatchiks of the national security state.

The constant leaks to the media from the FBI or intelligence agencies are feeding the mounting revelations of White House wrongdoing--but often on a very narrow basis.

Consider that one of the week's high-profile revelations was that Trump revealed top-secret intelligence from the Israeli spy apparatus to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador at their Oval Office meeting.

That information alleging an ISIS terrorism plot was apparently the basis for a ban on laptops in carry-on luggage on flights from the Middle East, which might soon be expanded to flights from Europe. But this has only added to the mountain of discriminatory policies directed at all Muslims and Arabs--including Trump's failed ban on travel by the citizens of a half-dozen Muslim-majority countries.

Because this "intelligence" now figures in an allegation apparently exposing Trump's irresponsibility, a lot of people who should know better accept it at face value--even though the dangers of exaggerating the threat of terrorism are well-documented, whether in the form of routine Islamophobia practiced at airports or the series of high-profile "terrorism" busts based on entrapment.

If opposition to Trump is reduced to rooting for him to be brought down by any scandal at all, then the tendency will be to side with the national security state when its anonymous mouthpieces charge him with the same violations of government secrecy that were used to send Chelsea Manning to a military prison she is finally free of this week.

The enemy of our enemy is not necessarily a friend. On Thursday, the Nation magazine ran an article on the "Four reasons Robert Mueller is an ideal special counsel."

Really? Robert Mueller is bathing in bipartisan praise today as a "legendary G-man" man who will doggedly pursue justice, but we remember him as a top-ranking "warrior on terror" during the George W. Bush administration.

Mueller stood alongside Attorney General John Ashcroft as they spread fear--on the flimsiest of pretexts, if any at all--of imminent terrorist attacks that never materialized, and he is centrally responsible for the persecution of tens of thousands of Arabs and Muslims rounded up for questioning or detained on trumped-up charges.

PREDICTABLY, MUELLER was welcomed with open arms by the so-called opposition party in Washington.

From the start--and in contrast to the mass protests against Trump that began the day after he took the oath of office--the Democrats have mainly emphasized Trump's alleged connections to Russia. As Lance Selfa wrote for

Liberals are worried about the undue influence of Putin-connected Russian oligarchs on Trump. But it might have made more sense to point out how his cabinet is filled with made-in-the-USA oligarchs...

Given the choice between trying to mount a real opposition to the Trump agenda and fuming about Trump being Moscow's man in Washington, it appears that Democrats have opted for the latter--and so have the liberals who tail them.

Now that there is blood in the water, the Democrats are coordinating all their efforts with the goal of winning back control of Congress in the 2018 midterm elections. But beyond the fact that people losing loved ones to deportation and facing massive health care cuts can't afford to wait almost two years, the Democrats' strategy isn't actually working.

A Gallup Poll released this week showed that the Democrats--despite a catastrophic crisis for Trump--dropped five percentage points in their favorability rating, to 40 percent, almost identical to Trump's Republicans.

The problem isn't that more people are rallying around Trump--whose popularity continues to be incredibly low for a new president--but that support for the Democrats among their own voters has fallen off--probably because those voters are sick and tired of a party that doesn't stand for anything other than being more responsible guardians of the status quo than Trump.

Amazingly, then, the same dynamic from the 2016 presidential election continues: Trump is increasingly unpopular, but so are his Democratic opponents--and the base voters for the Democratic Party are increasingly disillusioned.

Trump may yet be overthrown by his own corruption and incompetence, but before you bet on that outcome, remember this: That's what we all thought during the presidential campaign last year after the release of Trump's infamous "grab them by the pussy" tape.

JUST BECAUSE the Democrats will remain the "official" face of the opposition during the administration's continuing crisis doesn't mean the anger of millions of people toward Trump can be contained by their narrow political limits.

Every day seems to bring more evidence that Trump is unfit--not so much to be president, but to be considered fully human. But all his outrages reveal fundamental problems with the system that made him "the most powerful man in the world."

For example, while the Democrats are obsessed by suspicions about Russian plots to subvert last year's election, it's more likely that Trump is afraid an investigation will uncover shady business dealings going back many years before 2016.

But if anyone in Washington is willing to be honest, this is the norm for political leaders of both major parties. Given the dubious history of the Clinton Foundation, would Hillary Clinton want to set the precedent that you can be removed from office for blurring the line between business and political relationships with foreign officials?

Those on the left who conclude that the power struggle in Washington today is a distraction--or, worse, who speculate about whether President Trump is a lesser evil to President Pence--are missing the point.

Millions of people who already oppose Trump are finding urgent new reasons every day to want to change the world. The problem is if they stop there and wait to see if Robert Mueller does the job or the Democrats finally step up. Even if they go after Trump, their mission will be to preserve the status quo around him.

The anger at Trump has to be channeled into active opposition. Socialists and the left can make the case that the whole system should be impeached. We can draw larger numbers into the important initiatives to challenge the Trump menace in the day to day--like confronting the immigration police when they try to victimize the undocumented.

And we can bring further focus and organizational clarity to our socialist alternative to an entire system based on greed, lies and hate.

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