Bill Black: Trump Far More Interested in Business Deals than the Business of the Nation

Jerri-Lynn here: President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday discussed how he proposes to manage conflicts of interest between his business empire and his role as President. In the following Real News Network interview,  Bill Black shreds the adequacy of this proposed solution.

Trump’s business interests pose an obvious constitutional problem.  But as I’ve written in this post, US Constitution’s Emoluments Clause: a Nothingburger for Trump, “Just because something’s unconstitutional, doesn’t mean that any such unconstitutional activity will necessarily be prevented, precluded, or punished.” I continue to stand by that earlier analysis (much as I might wish otherwise). And I think I’ll go so far as to say that Professor Black– notwithstanding the justifiable outrage he expresses toward Trump’s position in the interview below — appears equally flummoxed by the question of what can be done to force Trump to address the obvious conflicts and thereby defuse the constitutional concern.

SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

On Wednesday, Donald Trump held a press conference. He dealt with many issues, but one very important among them, is what he plans to do with his business empire. Let’s take a brief look at what he and his lawyer, Sheri Dillon, had to say.

(video clip)

DONALD TRUMP: But I have no conflict of interest provision as president. It was many, many years old –- this is for presidents. Because they don’t want presidents getting… I… I understand. They don’t want Presidents getting tangled up in minutiae. They want a president to run the company. So, I could actually run my business. I could actually run my business and run government at the same time. I don’t like the way that looks, but I would be able to do that, if I wanted to. I’d be the only one that would be able to do that. You can’t do that in any other capacity. But as a president, I could run the Trump organization — great, great company. And I could run the company… the country. I’d do a very good job.

But I don’t want to do that. What I’m going to be doing is — my two sons who are right here, Don and Eric — are going to be running the company. They are going to be running it in a very professional manner. They’re not going to discuss it with me. Again, I don’t have to do this. They’re not going to discuss it with me.

And with that, I’m going to bring up Sheri Dillon, and she’s going to go… these papers are just some of the many documents that I’ve signed turning over complete and total control…

REPORTER: Sir… is there…?

SHERI DILLON: … he said he’s voluntarily taking this on. The conflicts of interest laws simply do not apply to the President, or the Vice President, and they are not required to separate themselves from their financial assets. Even so, President-elect Trump wants there to be no doubt in the minds of the American public that he is completely isolating himself from his business interests. He instructed us to take all steps realistically possible, to make it clear that he is not exploiting the office of the presidency for his—-

(audio gap)

…first, President-elect Trump investments and business assets, commonly known as the form… as the Trump Organization, comprising hundreds of entities which, again, if you all go and take a look at his financial disclosure statement, the pages and pages and pages of entities, have all been, or will be conveyed to a trust prior to January 20th.

(end video clip)

SHARMINI PERIES: The President-elect is separating himself from his business empire by apparently transferring assets into a trust, and putting his two sons, Eric and Don, in charge of it all. So, then the question remains, will the trust deal with his conflict of interest that he is all tangled up in?

Joining us today to examine this, is Bill Black. Bill is a white-collar criminologist, and former financial regulator. He’s the author of “The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One”. He is also a regular contributor here at The Real News Network. Bill, welcome back.

BILL BLACK: Thank you.

SHARMINI PERIES: So, Bill, let’s start with what Trump plans to do with his business empire, and whether it actually deals with the problem.

BILL BLACK: (laughs) He has three obvious problems, in terms of the business. One is, continuing this kind of business ownership violates the Constitution. The second is, it creates immense conflicts of interest. And the third is, that running the presidency of the United States is supposed to be more than a full-time business. And it’s clear that Trump is really far more interested in doing business deals than the business of the nation.

And, no, this doesn’t solve any of these three problems. Doesn’t solve the constitutional problem, because he is going to be taking money, perhaps vast amounts of money, from foreign governments in his business entities. It doesn’t solve the conflict of interest, because it’s not a true blind trust at all. And even in a supposed blind trust, he would obviously know what his assets were, unless he divested, which is what he is refusing to do. So, there’s nothing blind about the trust.

SHARMINI PERIES: Bill, let’s unpack that for a moment. Now, yesterday in the press conference, he said that one way he plans to deal with this issue is to… Any funds that his hotels receive from the foreign governments by way of, say, holding events — for example, one of the things that have been cited is if, let’s say, the government of Saudi Arabia wants to hold an event in Washington and they use the Trump Hotel in Washington to hold that event — he would then take that income and give it to the public treasury.

Now, how feasible is all that? And how do we track any of that, and what do you think of his measure of allowing this to go to the public treasury?

BILL BLACK: Well, first, again, we don’t know how any of this would be done. And he is someone who is the opposite of transparent, the only person in modern times who has refused to release his tax returns.

(video clip)

DONALD TRUMP: Well, I’m not releasing the tax returns, because as you know, they’re under audit.

REPORTER: But every President since the ’70s has been required an audit from the IRS…

DONALD TRUMP: Oh gee, never heard that… Oh gee, I’ve never heard that…

REPORTER: …the last six have released them. But as President, sir…

DONALD TRUMP: …I’ve never heard that… You know the only one that cares about my tax returns is you reporters…

REPORTER: You don’t think the American public is concerned about that?

DONALD TRUMP: No, I don’t think so. I won.

(end video clip)

BILL BLACK: Under this completely bogus explanation that he’s under audit, as if that meant he couldn’t release his tax returns. With my law hat on, there’s absolutely no such clause.

In terms of the government, they have every incentive to curry interest with Trump. It’s abundantly apparent that Trump cares enormous amounts of money… amounts about having money, and of course, they wouldn’t have to do it in the name of the Saudi government. They could do it in the name of… any of… literally over a thousand Saudi princes, and such.

Or their supposed charitable funds, or their lobbyists could do it. So, no, none of this does anything other than cause you to use a cutout, and the Saudis are expert at using cutouts — nothing unique about the Saudis. Everybody understands how to do this to curry favor, and to appear to comply with some laws.

So, again, that’s why the head of the Office of Government Ethics –- now, people may recall that there’s a Congressional Ethics, and that their very first act, literally, of the Republicans upon constituting the new Congress, was to try to take a whack at those folks. And that that lasted one day before public opinion caused them to back off.

But there’s an Office of Government Ethics, more generally, and this is not a particularly stringent-type entity. But back in the past, for example, they made criminal referrals when Charles Keating was trying to put a mole –- Charles Keating was the most infamous fraud of the Savings and Loan debacle –- and through the Reagan administration he got a presidential appointee who was, you know, literally as intelligence agents used the term, a mole for this leading fraud running the agency. The Office of Government Ethics, once I blew the whistle to them, was instrumental in getting Lee Henkel, that mole, to resign in disgrace.

So, you know, they have their moments. Well, the head of the Office of Government Ethics just came out, flat out, and said, this is outrageous, you should not do this, divestment is the only effort that can work. And the claim that it’s a sacrifice, everybody else to serve in the federal government, including, of course, all the people in the armed services, make vastly greater sacrifices than this.

So, he just took a hammer and hit it right in Donald Trump’s forehead, figuratively, on this issue. And then the former head of ethics for the Bush administration, Richard Painter, who, in disclosures — a colleague of mine, wife on the faculty of the U Minnesota Law School — has been increasingly, clear. This flatly violates the Constitution, and of course, is a terrible act in terms of conflicts of interest that you’re supposed to avoid.

Let’s be clear: the framers of the Constitution, the U.S. Constitution, is blessedly short, so there aren’t that many specific, “You can’t do this,” is in it. One of the things they explicitly put in, because of real world experience, was in… “No, we’re going to make sure the President of the United States cannot be influenced by foreign governments through these means. We have this prohibition,” and in its day, just a flat prohibition.

So, Trump’s lawyers are absolutely wrong in saying, “Well, you know, if you just do business in the normal course, as the Saudis or the Russians, with the Trump Empire, that can’t be problem.” No, that’s forbidden.

SHARMINI PERIES:Wow. So, what do you make of the type of trust that’s been established? Now, there’s been a lot of talk about whether it’s a blind trust, or just a trust. I think he was… in just, established a trust that he would just hand over to Don and Eric to run. Does it matter what kind of trust?

BILL BLACK: Yes. If you did real divestment, you wouldn’t then know what you owned, in a blind trust. And there would be less concern that you were doing things as a president that might make you rich. If it’s not a blind trust, you’d know what your assets are intimately. You know exactly what will help those assets in terms of policies, and in lobbyists and friends and foreign parties, like we’ve been talking about, and it brings government into disrepute.

So, he could have created a blind trust. It would’ve required divestment. He’s absolutely refused to do what all Presidents have done in the modern era. He’s flatly refused to follow the advice of the Office of Government Ethics. He’s flatly refused to follow the advice of people where this is their specialty area, the ethics in finances of the government. He has created blatant conflicts of interest, and he has made it farcical by putting his two sons — so, this isn’t the Ford Foundation running something — this is his kids. And, you know, he even said at the end of the conference, “Well, what would you do if these kids did a bad job of running it?” He said, “I’d fire them.” So, he’s retaining control. So, it’s a farce, and it’s an outrage, and it’s unconstitutional. It needs to be stopped.

And as I said, on top of that, he has a more than full-time job trying to learn to be President of the United States. The last thing in the world someone as lazy as Donald Trump is, who can’t be bothered to read a memo, because it interferes with his ability to be touting his towers. Someone who constantly takes the press to do photo opportunities, as his own businesses, to make himself richer, he is the last person in the world that needs these conflicts of interest, and these distractions. So, on all three grounds, it simply should be completely unacceptable.

SHARMINI PERIES:Bill, you travel these circles. Some of your colleagues you’ve mentioned, others… many people are talking about this big, huge elephant in the room that he keeps trying to deflect as a non-issue.

In fact, at the beginning of the conference he says, “I’m not required by law to do any of this.” But you’re a lawyer. What are people saying about it? When you say this is constitutional conflict here why isn’t that registering with Donald Trump?

BILL BLACK: (laughs) Because he could care less about these kinds of things, he’s a rich guy, born not with a silver spoon, but with a platinum spoon, and then when he screwed that up, he got another serving from dad. All his life he’s been able to skate. All his life he’s been made rich by the government. David Cay Johnston’s book can explain this to you in great detail, how he was bailed out twice, by the federal, and then the state government combination, through his taxes.

He has contempt for all normal rules. He… It’s of a piece with his refusal to disclose his tax returns, and he’s flat out wrong on the constitutional part. That is a law, and he’s going to take an oath to defend and protect the very Constitution that he’s going to start out massively violating.

Now, he is correct that in addition to the Constitution, there is something that isn’t a legal mandate. It is simply what all modern Presidents have done, in the view that it is essential to the dignity of the office, to respect for the office, that Americans should know that there aren’t conflicts of interest, and Donald Trump is saying, “Screw you,” on that. Now, that isn’t a law, that second part, nor is it a law that says, “Hey, you’ve got more than a full-time job being president.” But anyone responsible would not do what he’s doing.

Now, of course, no surprise to us that he’s going to act irresponsibly, but he needs to be hammered when he does these kinds of things, we cannot simply accept this progressive destruction of ethics as being inevitable.

SHARMINI PERIES:Bill, there’s some rumors on the Hill that some congress people are possibly calling for, enquiring, into the direct conflicts that are going on. Are there any legal courses that Congress, or anyone else, could take in terms of these obvious cases of conflict of interest you’re talking about?

BILL BLACK: Oh, certainly. Congress can hold hearings. Congress can have the GAO investigate. But, only the majority party can call hearings, subpoena witnesses, subpoena documents, and it would be extraordinary –- I mean, it would be a good thing — but no one expects that’s going to be done by any Republican Chair, any time remotely soon.

Individual members of Congress can ask the GAO to investigate. But when the GAO, for example, sought to investigate –- remember when Dick Cheney was vice-president and he had his secret Energy Commission that was overwhelmingly top executives, like of Exxon, secretly making our policy? And the GAO sought to investigate? Well, there was even a court case, and then the GAO gave up that court case. And the reason is, it was threatened with massive reduction in its budget. Should it take on the President in those kinds of actions, and the Vice President, Dick Cheney?

Of course, the absolute most influential group of that secret group of energy companies with Dick Cheney? …That was Enron.

SHARMINI PERIES: Right. And obviously there’s a similar conflict going on as the hearings unfold. We’re coming to know that Tillerson, and a number of other appointees that are getting confirmed as we speak, have similar conflicts of interest. And then there’s not possibility of Congress or Senate putting any of these concerns into any sort of inquiry going on. It’s a done deal, it seems.

BILL BLACK: And there’s simply no candor. So, he testified in his confirmation hearing that Exxon, to his knowledge, had not directly lobbied to try to get out of the Russian sanctions. In fact, it lobbied extensively, and then he said, when he was confronted with the evidence that they’d lobbied, “Well, how do you know we lobbied against the sanctions, that cost us tens of billions of dollars?”

You know, it’s just… they’re not even trying to create a good cover-up. It’s just, “We can get away with anything.”

SHARMINI PERIES: Right. And why do you think the Democrats are going along with it? I mean, they’re asking the most, lame questions in this hearings one could imagine. The odd congressman, or senator, is asking some tough questions, but it’s rare.

BILL BLACK: Yes! So, Marco Rubio was by far the toughest questioner… (laughs) …in any of the hearings. Will Rogers, I think, said it best, now, maybe 80 years ago, “I’m not a member of any organized party. I’m a Democrat.”

SHARMINI PERIES: (laughs) All right, Bill. I thank you so much for joining us today.

BILL BLACK: Thank you.

SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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  1. clarky90

    Kellyanne Conway Talks About Meeting Donald Trump And About Moving Her Family To Washington DC

    People may feel more relaxed about Donald Trump after listening to this interview with Kellyanne Conway. She says that DJT is NOT motivated by power, money and prestige (he had that before).

    She worked every summer from age 12 yo to age 19 yo, packing blueberries, on piece-rate pay. This is a hard way to make money.

    Her view is that Donald Trump will put the American worker at the center of his administration. He will be steadfast and loyal.

    I like her a lot!

    1. JEHR

      But…but…but putting your own business interests ahead of “the American worker” doesn’t seem to be the way to start. Don’t get too relaxed, clarky90, as things can change pretty quickly. Do you really believe that because Kellyanne worked hard picking blueberries, she can be believed about her opinions on Trump! You must be kidding!

    2. wtf

      When Kellyanne was working for Ted Cruz during the Republican primaries she said Trump made his money off “the backs of the little guys” and eminent domain. She will say whatever the guy paying her wants her to say. And now that guy is Trump.

      Press reps are commonly dishonest, but Kellyanne is a rare lying machine. And she calls herself Catholic. LOL. WWJD?

    3. jrs

      how does this refute anything in the article above? The response to the charges of obvious conflict of interest in the above article is “Trump is a great guy”. That doesn’t cut it. Nation of laws and not of men …

  2. EndOfTheWorld

    I can understand he doesn’t want to completely give up his business. He’s in a different situation than somebody who just owns a lot of stock. In his case he owns a lot of buildings with his name on them. He’ll do what he has to do and probably people will complain but so what?

    1. Jim Haygood

      From Jerri-Lynn’s previous post on this subject:

      Whenever Mr. Trump receives anything from a foreign sovereign, to the extent that it’s not an arm’s-length transaction,” [Norman] Eisen said, “every dollar in excess that they pay over the fair market price will be a dollar paid in violation of the Emoluments Clause and will be a present to Mr. Trump.

      That’s an important qualifier, compared to Bill Black’s sweeping assertions that any transaction with a foreign government, however de minimis [e.g., renting a hotel ballroom to the Chinese embassy] is ipso facto unconstitutional.

      What percentage of Trump’s property revenue comes from governments, rather than the private sector? Ten percent would be high. It’s a second-order issue at best.

      Hillary Clinton openly peddled influence while serving as Sec State as the Clinton Foundation accepted multi-millions from foreign governments, while “Bill” front-ran her visits to shake down them down for millions more with his speeches — and absolutely nothing happened.

      Conflicts of interest are another sad example of the squalid Clintons defining deviancy downward.

      1. Carolinian

        Agree totally. While we don’t have to believe Trump when he says he’s already rich and therefore has no financial motive we don’t have to disbelieve him either. Given that the WaPo is hiring more reporters by the day to investigate his dealings it’s dubious that he could get away with much self enrichment. He will undoubtedly undergo far more scrutiny on this front than the Clintons or the Congress or the military given that DC itself is one giant conflict of interest.

    2. jrs

      Because it’s obvious and open corruption?

      (which I do realize the Clinton foundation represented as well, but maybe so what to all that as well?)

  3. dontknowitall

    Yes it is banana republic-like but the Supreme Court has frequently dismissed concerns about its own conflicts of interest and Congress and the Presidents over the years did absolutely nothing to shame them so good luck getting redress there. A lot of our recent history is banana republic-like including the recent attempt to elect the wife of a former president (both suspected of corruption), the war on whistleblowers and the multiple soft coup attempts by political opponents of Trump.

    Obama did not have a business to run when elected though he later made millions milking his multiple biographies while president. His predecessor, Bush II, managed to drive all his businesses into bankruptcy before he was elected and true to form he immediately ran the ship of state aground in the Middle East. Lucky for us all our debt is in dollars.

    Congress also is mired in its own financial and other kinds of conflicts for which it artfully exempts itself from regulation. And didn’t they just exempt themselves from ethics oversight regarding sex with interns…the place is a cesspool…I understand Trump is finding it hard to separate himself from his business, it is the product of a life’s work and it may take some time to resolve the (very emotional, I’m sure) conflict. It is clear his election was a complete surprise to him and I am not ready to assign evil intent to this failure but we will see…

  4. reslez

    Even in a so-called blind trust we’d have to assume Trump would have X-Ray vision into its contents. Trump’s property consists of his trademarked name and properties all branded with his name… even if these entities were sold off at fire sale prices, would anyone truly believe the Trump family would remain at arms length from all decisions, and the properties truly severed?

    I think we have to trust the Fourth Estate to do their jobs here. Given the white hot blazing hatred the media possess for Trump I think we’ll shortly learn more than we ever wanted to know about his business dealings, real or imagined. Not to mention the Fifth Estate, the leak mongerers and bit torrenters. Those guys must be drooling at the idea of flooding us with a rich trove of Trump Co primary documents.

    I’m sure Trump will find surprising ways to disappoint us but at least he’s not like Obama, coming into office having already shilled for telecom immunity. I knew from the outset that guy was an empty suit. At least with Trump there’s still a question what he’ll do. Bill Black might not be happy about it but Trump still beats Hillary (more ways than one).

  5. Dan Lynch

    We did not force George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to give up their farms, even though clearly their farming activities created conflicts of interest (slavery, tariffs, war, etc..)

    I sympathize with Trump on this issue, and it will go nowhere.

    1. fosforos

      George Washington is a particularly scandalous case. A real-estate speculator (unlike Trump, who fancies himself a builder), Washington even at the outset of the “Revolution” had major holdings in the Ohio Valley whose value depended entirely on the success of the “Patriots” in overthrowing the King and ending His prohibition of colonization west of the Alleghenies. Since his policies as President vigorously promoted that enriching activity (what do think the “revolution” was about anyway, white man?) it clearly violated the “emoluments” clause in a way totally inapplicable to Trump (whose “emoluments,” whatever they turn out to be, would go to Corporate Entities, not real persons. And the Constitution speaks only of real persons, never once of Corporate Entities.) I don’t know the case of Jefferson, but if he had any assets at all that would be favored by the westward expansion his unconstitutional purchase of Louisiana with public funds was a monumental scandal (and crime) far exceeding anything that Trump, or even Washington, could manage.

  6. Jim

    I respect Bill Black and his financial investigative abilities into banking fraud. But for Trump to divest all his properties seems ludicrous to me. That means no person of his stature could be President because they are not going to sell everything. Imagine trying to sell when the buyer knows it’s basically a forced sale. Cannot get a fair price in that market.
    The conflict of interest was not a major problem with the Clintons and Clinton Foundation, or the Clinton Global Initiative. They did not have to divest when she was Secretary as well as Dick Chaney and his ownership of Halliburton. And Halliburton was involved heavily in the Middle East.
    Trump, in my opinion, was elected to see if a business executive can run our country better than a typical politician. So let us allow him to show us what he can do and what he does. Then we can determine what can or should be done. There is just too much speculation I see now.

    1. shinola

      “The conflict of interest was not a major problem with the Clintons and Clinton Foundation, or the Clinton Global Initiative.”

      I suppose this would be true for Saudi Arabia but Yemen could have problem with it…

    2. Code Name D

      I agree on all points. Trump is going into this nearly blind, having no idea what being presdent actualy means, or what his real powers will be. And given the conflict with the CIA, Trump’s fist priority may be just to stay alive.

      Goodmen is once again claiming that Clintion indigthments are imenint, posibly raising the pardon issue once again. The inner workings of the Democratic Party are exposed. The propaganda war is masicly a pre-emptive striike to damage his credability before he takes office, setting the stage for impeachment.

      This going to get ugly

  7. LAS

    Trump may get away with doing this in the near term, however, given politics, the global situation, likely corruption and Trump’s proclivity to insult … some capable collaboration of people will sooner or later kick off a legal event (sorry, don’t know the exact legal terms) and then we’ll have a constitutional crisis of some kind.

  8. Atypical

    Many of the comments here make excuses for Trump not wanting to comply with the legal and ethical requirements of the presidency. Some of those excuses are the usual; the Clintons did worse or some other individual did this or that, too.

    We have also seen how his cabinet choices are a mockery of established and reasonable convention: the choosing of one with no credentials for a position or someone who has actively tried to destroy the organization they will now lead.

    The contempt for and subsequent avoidance of many important requirements in the incoming administration continues, excused by the “tolerant” and those aware of similar transgressions by others. One day these prerequisites will disappear without discussion.

    Raindrops on rock appear harmless but after a while can cause cracks.Temperature changes (time) will create fissures, and those can cause large rocks to crack into pieces.

    All this happens without much notice. And, that is the danger.

    1. reslez

      This may come as a shock, but penniless self-abasing humanitarians weren’t among the choices last November. No matter who the American people chose we were going to end up with another regime filled with corrupt, self-serving crony-hugging grifters.

      I don’t think anyone is making excuses for Trump as much as we recognize the depths of corruption we were bound to get either way. I hope to at least get something, at least some benefit to the working class. If we can get some actual job growth and improvement in wages and health outcomes by 2020, Trump can have another billion for all I care and welcome to it. Under Clinton she’d steal the billion and sell us down the river besides. But if any self-abasing humanitarians come up next election I’ll make sure to vote for them. I supported Sanders too….

      1. Atypical

        The point I made is that anyone who is elected seems to move the bar toward a rejection of ANY established convention and no one sees it or cares. It should be realized that blind support is dangerous. (I understand that Clinton would likely also seek to move the goalposts again.)

        But, this must stop. Supporters must see their unequivocal obeisance as being detrimental to the country. Naive I know but relevant nonetheless.

        My respect for humans and their tendencies is at an all-time low. It will only get worse.

        1. aab

          I believe you have just asserted something not grounded in fact. The last administration was packed with established conventional figures. They did terrible things, which is why a lot of people who suffered under conventional, credentialed rule are open to trying a different metric.

          The supporters with unequivocal obeisance are the ones that lost. Trump won because a lot of people who have been suffering decided to roll the dice and try something outside the normal parameters.

          Yes, there are people investing Trump with magical, kingly hope. Our culture inculcates that sort of thinking and value system, so it’s not surprising suffering, desperate people would do it. But you seem to be projecting a lot of shadows onto the wall based on cut-outs you made yourself. There is not more blind support now than the last change of power. If anything, there is less. You began your last comment with something demonstrably incorrect. It is simply untrue that many commenters here are making excuses for Trump. Again, you are projecting, based either on what you are seeing somewhere else, or some straw man that you want to argue against to feel superior. I am sorry you are so unhappy. I often struggle with despair at where we are as a culture and a species right now. But this toxic system was not built by all humans, but by a particularly rapacious subset. You might feel better if you got out more and talked to regular people — the ones who are kind and giving and caring and currently massively disempowered and exploited by the system. Humanity is not beyond hope. But the system is certainly broken.

          I realize what I just wrote is a bit condescending, but given that you’re fabricating things to be upset about, it’s the best I could do.

          1. Lambert Strether

            I don’t think the story of the election is that complicated. Despite the best efforts (and truly staggering arrogance and incompetence of the Clinton campaign*), the election came down, at the end of the day, to a few counties that voted for Obama. They rolled the dice on “hope and change” in 2008. They gave the Dems a second chance in 2012. The Dems didn’t deliver, so they rolled the dice on the other guy. “Throw the bums out” is one of the oldest story in politics, and one of the more amusing features of our current predicament is watching the liberals come to grips, or not, with how very much they’re regarded as bums by those not in their bubble.

            NOTE * Oddly, I’m not hearing “Putin forced Clinton to set up a private mail server!” on the list of Democrat excuses for failure. Nor am I hearing “Putin forced Clinton not to campaign in Wisconsin!”

              1. Lambert Strether

                I’m not sure I agree (and I don’t like the “We’re supposed to be” formulation, either. It’s almost always tendentious).

                Atypical wrote:

                > Supporters must see their unequivocal obeisance as being detrimental to the country.

                That’s what I see as key. (The people who voted for Trump after voting for Obama weren’t doing that, BTW).

                1. aab

                  That was my basic point, boiled down. The election turned on voters who WEREN’T being obeisant. Our politics are a mess, but I don’t think Trump voters are the problem, frankly.

                  I talked to a couple online the other day, and it was really interesting. Just by virtue of not insulting them and acknowledging that Dems like me were conned by Obama, they were open to talking about all sorts of things in interesting ways. They actually listened to me when I said that leftists were different from liberals, and asked me questions about democratic socialism. Man, they HATE traditional Republicans. Anecdote is not data and all that, but I think there’s a lot of polling that backs this up. They would never, ever, EVER have voted for Jeb, the way I would never had voted for Hillary, and they’re not fans of Paul Ryan, IIRC.

                  1. jrs

                    Well too bad, so sad, boohoo, because I kind of suspect it’s Paul Ryan who will be having his way with them. Although yes this does depend on how Trump reacts to the legislation they pass.

      2. JosB

        Nonsense. People in most states could have voted for Stein, who in my opinion would have been a far better candidate than either Trump or Clinton. But most Americans are either too ignorant or too hateful to support a candidate who would bring them Medicare for all, and who would at least attempt to kickstart the economy by forgiving student debt, as suggested by Michael Hudson.

        1. aab

          I don’t think that’s fair. Stein had pennies to run on and a weak organizational structure. The corporate media only covered her as a kook. And frankly, that’s how she ran much of the time, for good or ill, for structural reasons or temperamental ones: as a movement protest figure, not a politician. Many voters never heard about her and those that did were instructed that she was not a viable choice. Perhaps they should have been wiser. But when the media is saying the election is Sauron versus Voldemort, you’re unlikely to vote for Mrs. Weasley, even though she kicked ASS at magic.

          Enough with the voters being stupid and hateful. That’s Clintonian messaging. If the Greens go down that road, they are lost.

    2. aab

      What reslez said, but also:

      Given how corrupt and broken the system is, I think people across the political and economic spectrum — except corporate centrists — are open to the idea that “established and reasonable conventions” and credentials being the be-all and end-all of competence have not proven to be all that.

      You’re right that appointing someone to run a department whose mission they despise is not good. But that’s also an old Republican trick. There are numerous problems with most of Trump’s nominees. But I’m not sure that gets fixed by focusing on conventions and credentials. That’s what got us here. This rock is already broken. Trump walked through the crevice.

      To me, a lot of this comes down to oversight from the top, and fundamental honor, as measured (to the degree it can be) by past actions. Betsy DeVos sounds like a nightmare — probably no worse than Clinton would have appointed, but still, a nightmare.

      But someone like Sessions is a more interesting case. Barack Obama appointed a highly credentialed African-American man as Attorney General, and he fundamentally did not act to protect the rule of law. He also did little to protect black Americans from violations of law. This probably could have been guessed by his background and alliances. Comey did not indict Hillary Clinton for her crimes against the state, because clearly, his boss the President did not want him to.

      Then we get to Sessions, with his long, ugly history of racism. I’m under the impression he’s not very bright, either, although possibly that’s a holdover from when I was a Dem partisan and believed the mainstream press. He could be an absolute nightmare as AG.

      On the other hand, he won’t be writing the briefs, will he? He mostly sets priorities. And if Trump wants him to focus on corporate crime (which he apparently also has a history of doing) and not hurting black people and marijuana users, perhaps that’s what he will do. In which case, he would end up being a better AG for the citizens of the country than Eric Holder, despite Holder’s conventionally positive attributes and credentials. This is not to be taken as advocacy for Sessions, but just a realistic view, given that since he’s a Senator, and the Senate is a cesspool of “comity,” there was never any realistic chance of blocking his nomination. Better to focus on pressuring him to do good things instead of bad, and target other nominees that might be blockable because they haven’t been having dinner parties with Senators for decades.

      1. Atypical

        I appreciate your thoughtful response.

        Although my criticism was pointed at apparent Trump defenders it was not made without an awareness of the problems you describe.

        The country is awash with partisanship (with obvious reasons) and the accompanying acceptance of whatever their candidate does. There must be some serious penalty for this blindness.

        One would not be intellectually dishonest for assuming that these actions seem to be predictive. I am one of them.

        I am not hopeful.

        1. Lambert Strether

          I’m just trying to see, as the Canadians say, where the hockey puck is going to be next, as opposed to where it is. In other words, I’d like to be able to (re)act in time to events that will be at the very best dynamic and at worst very painful.

          And all the yammering — the constant demands for outrage, to “stand with,” to click through — doesn’t help, in fact hurts. Both parties do it, of course, but in my mind the liberal yammering is far more destructive than the conservative yammering, because liberals suck away all the oxygen from the left with whom, in the public mind, they are still too often confused. (Booker v. Klobuchar/Sanders on pharma is a good example of successful differentiation.)

        2. aab

          This is a gracious reply. I’m sorry I misunderstood you and snarked at you in my later comment.

          But there is SO much strawmanning around this issue here and elsewhere online.that it’s exhausting.

          I do disagree that partisanship is a big deal now. It will always be with us, most likely. But the Democrats are down to around 28% of the electorate, about the same as Republicans. More Americans are independents than partisans. You wouldn’t know that from corporate media, but there’s a reason for that, and it’s NOT because it accurately reflects the majority of Americans’ attitudes. Obama is a special case. That didn’t transfer to Clinton to the same degree, and I think it will transfer even less to the next Trojan Horse, whether it’s Booker, Harris or someone else. We’ll see.

  9. Lambert Strether

    This caught my eye:

    BILL BLACK: Yes! So, Marco Rubio was by far the toughest questioner… (laughs) …in any of the hearings. Will Rogers, I think, said it best, now, maybe 80 years ago, “I’m not a member of any organized party. I’m a Democrat.”

    So, if you watch what Democrats do, they don’t really care. Exactly in the same way that if Trump really were a fascist, Democrats wouldn’t be doing what they’re doing to ease his transition (and in fact are morally obligated, if that means anything these days, to oppose him “by any means necessary,” and not with stupid and reactionary little #Resist hash tags, shortly to be funded by Brock, in another fine example of doubling down on #FAIL.

    So if the Democrats don’t really care, and if the Democrat “base” at Kos etc. and in the political class, therefore, just playing “any stick to beat a dog,” why do we care?

    Black also says, of Trump’s conflicts:

    So, it’s a farce, and it’s an outrage, and it’s unconstitutional. It needs to be stopped.

    Well, it’s not unconstitutional as soon as Trump gets away with it, which he will. This would be another change in the Constitutional order, then. If you have open rule by oligarchs, you’re going to have these issues of “conflict.” Since oligarchs, by definition, own great swaths of the planet, how are you ever going to get them to divest? Not practical. (And I don’t see a lot of other people in the political class smashing their rice bowls for the good of the Republic, so it’s deeply hypocritical as well. Since when did a Democratic strategist surrender their intellectual assets on taking office? Never. “Dance with the one that brung ya!”)

    So and again, the problem isn’t “conflict” but oligarchy and oligarchs, which the Democrats can’t say, of course, since they have their own oligarchs to service. And if the voters elect oligarchs, then the Constitutional order will bend to normalize that, and not the oligarchs (or the voters, unless the political parties start serving up something other than shit).

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