The Tide Pool of Selfishness

Watching Donald Trump serve as president brings up a memory from my elementary school years. The Cub Scout pack took a field trip down to the tide pools in Palos Verdes. I spent the day picking my way through the kelp-coated rocks, amazed by what I was seeing, until one of my school chums said: “Hey Brian, come see this! These kids have found some crabs!”

Excited, I rushed over, hearing raucous laughter, to be confronted by the sound of a crab being crushed against the rock under an older boy’s boot.

The principal characteristic of a stable democracy – often the only thing that prevents it from devolving to fascism – is the existence of a robust and independent justice system. The lack of such a system is what has allowed Putin to make himself the richest man in the world while running Russia. Again and again, his political enemies have languished in jail while the courts transfer their assets to Putin and his cronies.

Watching Trump dismantle our federal justice system is terrifying to me. The onslaught of court cases brought against Trump since the inauguration demonstrate the dangers of letting a narcissistic fraudster into office, and that many of them involve foreign financial dealings means that they are brought in federal court. Trump’s political and financial interests are aligned to the end of destroying the system.

In my mind, that Republican legislators green-light the demolition only builds greater certainty that they’ve got something to hide. Perhaps Republican campaign operatives are linked to the weaponization of the data stolen from the DNC by the Russians?

I was back in Palos Verdes a few years ago. The abused tide pools now are barren rock.

Lessons From Bengazi

Hillary Clinton’s closing statements at the Bengazi hearing seized the high road. During eleven hours of redundant testimony, Mrs. Clinton educated Republican members regarding State Department operations and the proper boundaries between political and personal spheres. In summation, she offered that the problems that led to the death of four diplomats demanded consideration by policy makers. She hoped that such investigation would be conducted with an eye to problem solving, and that all involved would listen seriously to each other.

It is that last point that concerns me now. I did not watch the hearing, but what I observed in the excerpts was prosecutorial conduct that never would have been tolerated in a formal court of law. In a court-room setting, any judge – given the bulging case-loads created by Congressional refusal to empanel federal judges – would have allowed a defense team to raise objections to the relevancy of most of the questions asked by the panel, and prevented the questioners from interpreting testimony. As it is, the lack of a judicial figure in Congressional hearings allows license that was abused yesterday.

One of the most heart-breaking moments in Bill Clinton’s memoir concerns the suicide of Vince Foster, who was responsible for managing the White House relationship with the Whitewater investigators. In reflection, Mr. Clinton notes that the team of public servants he brought with him from Arkansas was simply unprepared for the destructive dynamic of Washington politics.

My concern at this time is that the fishing expedition engaged by the Bengazi panel will continue to be politicized. As with the violation of court orders that prohibited the release of illegally acquired videos of Planned Parenthood operations, I worry that the political operatives behind the Bengazi hearing will use the information they have gathered to attempt to break the will of those that associate with the Clintons.

This, to me, is intolerable – that popular politicians should find themselves ostracized by the threat that everyone in their personal circle can be caught up in the meat-grinder of a Congressional investigation. To prevent such abuse, I believe that Congress should be required to allow those testifying before it to request the presence of a federal judge to oversee the proceedings. If nothing else, that might motivate Congress to take action to fill the vacancies in the federal courts.