Saturday, May 25, 2019

Donald Trump’s great cascade

DONALD TRUMP has spent more time in getaway weekend mode than any modern predecessor in the Oval Office, but he earned some time away from the office this holiday weekend. He didn't decamp for Mar-a-Lago, his usual haunt, with Melania in tow. Trump, wife and associates instead left for Japan, to meet with Prime Minister Abe and to meet Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako, the first to ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne in more than 30 years.

It's just as well he left town. The fuselage door to Air Force One closed behind a president* with more than the usual bad news to be obsessed over. Some of it will be especially unwelcome, since it calls into question the power, if not the existence, of The Base that Trump has relied on since his term began.

Writing in The New England Journal of Medicine in 1986, James W. Mold and Howard F. Stein, of the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, defined the term “cascade” (in biological context) as a reference to “a process that, once started, proceeds stepwise to its full, seemingly inevitable, conclusion.” A political version of the same thing has been accelerating in and around the Trump White House, a succession of bad news events building one after another, never more frequently than the last seven days.

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First there was the bad news everyone reported on all week: On Monday, May 20, in Washington, U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta upheld House Democrats’ subpoena for Trump’s financial records, ruling against Trump’s attempts to suppress the congressional subpoena intended to get Mazars USA, his accounting firm, to surrender his tax returns and other privileged financial docs.

In a 41-page opinion, the judge unraveled Team’s Trump legal arguments against the subpoena’s validity like a cheap suit. The special object of Mehta’s attention was the assertion by congressional Republicans that the House Judiciary Committee has to conduct an official impeachment inquiry before sending out subpoenas.

“It is simply not fathomable that a Constitution that grants Congress the power to remove a president for reasons including criminal behavior would deny Congress the power to investigate him for unlawful conduct — past or present — even without formally opening an impeachment inquiry," Mehta wrote. “Congress plainly views itself as having sweeping authority to investigate illegal conduct of a president, before and after taking office,” Mehta wrote. “This court is not prepared to roll back the tide of history.”

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THAT WAS MONDAY. That was bad enough. On Wednesday, May 22, it got worse. That’s when Judge Edgardo Ramos of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled against a Trump request to stop Deutsche Bank, Trump’s lender of first and last resort, from complying with congressional subpoenas seeking his cherished, deeply guarded financial records.

NBC News reported that Deutsche Bank had made “more than $2 billion in loans to the president during his business career, and he still owes the bank at least $130 million, according to Trump’s latest financial disclosures.”

The New York Times reported on May 22 that House Financial Services and Intelligence Committees “had agreed to hold off on enforcing the subpoenas until seven days after the judge’s ruling, giving Mr. Trump’s lawyers time to appeal the ruling. ... but House Democrats are now closer than ever to securing a vast cache of long-sought documents.”

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And oh yeah, that same day, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said flat-out that President* Trump was “engaged in a cover-up.”

"In an orchestrated — almost to an 'oh, poor baby' point of view — he came into the room and said that I said that he was engaged in a cover-up and he couldn't possibly engage in a conversation on infrastructure as long as we are investigating him," Pelosi told the audience at an annual Center for American Progress conference, as reported May 22 in The Hill.

What had happened? Trump threw a hissy fit when he first heard about Pelosi’s “cover-up” comment, then he showed up about 10 minutes late for a meeting he never intended to do anything at in the first place. He met with Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer at the White House for all of three minutes before noisily declaring the meeting over, and then decamping for the Rose Garden for the weak stagecraft of an obviously planned speech before the waiting press corps.

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TRUMP GOT more interesting news May 22 with the NBC News report that “Wells Fargo and TD Bank are the two of nine institutions that have so far complied with subpoenas issued by the House Financial Services Committee demanding information about their dealings with the Trump Organization, according to the sources. ...

“Wells Fargo provided the committee with a few thousand documents and TD Bank handed the committee a handful of documents, according to a source who has seen them,” NBC News reported.

It’s the first compound broadside against the presumed inviolability of Trump’s intractable anti-information ethos, a way of thinking and of being that has characterized Trump and his agenda from the beginning, and it won’t be the last.

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Of course, all of that was much of the news fit to print (or post online). There was other news that came in during the week, information that, despite not fitting into the Trump cosmology, won’t be easily dismissed as “fake news.”

In the ABC News-Washington Post poll released on May 20, 55 percent of respondents said they would not vote for Trump in 2020. Only 39 percent of respondents approved of the way The Don™ has been doing his job since he was inaugurated.

The poll found that only 28 percent of respondents said they would definitely vote to return Trump to the White House. And the ultimate lukewarm reaction came from 14 percent, who said they’d “consider it.”

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AND THEN there’s the polling result that most directly confronts the singular thing Trump says recommends him for a second shot at the presidency: the state of the economy.

For respondents to the latest Quinnipiac University poll, the stellar economy is necessary but not sufficient. The poll, whose results were released on May 21, found that 22 percent of American voters rated the nation's economy as “excellent,” the highest such rating for the economy. Another 49 percent of voters said the economy is “good.”

“The total 71 percent for ‘excellent’ and ‘good’ is the highest total number for American voter attitudes on the economy in almost 18 years. ... But American voters give President Donald Trump a negative 38 - 57 percent approval rating.”

Voters gave Trump tepid approval of the economy, 48 percent approve and 45 percent disapprove in the Quinnipiac survey. He whiffs on his performance handling trade (39 percent approve, 53 percent disapproval), and again for his navigation of foreign policy vis-à-vis China (40 percent approve, 50 percent disapprove).

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Results like that more than suggest that voters aren’t necessarily inclined to vote on the one issue, not even the issue Trump believes makes him a lock for a second term.

In the aggregate, then, for the top-line reasons and the ones no one’s fully digested yet, last week was a horrible, terrible, very bad week for the man in the Oval Office. The flight to Japan and back on Air Force One can be expected to last somewhere between 30 and 35 hours.

For a president under siege like no one before him, serious consideration of the future — his own future — would be time well spent.

Image credits: Trump: Leah Mills/Reuters. Mehta: public domain. Pelosi: Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

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