Gordon Campbell on why Trump is a good thing

At this point, its worth noting there’s one good reason for being grateful that Donald Trump is in the White House – and the appointment of Anthony Scaramucci as the White House Communications Director is a good reminder of just what that reason is. As candidate and President alike, Trump has been a bad salesman for the policies he espouses.

That’s why on the campaign trail Scaramucci – a prominent hitman on Fox News for the Republican Establishment and an attack dog for its preferred likes of Jeb Bush – recognized the potential harm that Trump could do to the wider cause. For much of 2016 then, Scaramucci dutifully called Trump out for his personal failings, his managerial incompetence, and his general unfitness for the top job. Reportedly, Scaramucci has now spent the weekend trying to erase the Twitter evidence of these attacks.

Keep in mind though, that the Republican Establishment hasn’t had a policy problem with Trump the candidate, nor with Trump as President. Their chronic fear has always been that his manifest personal failings would discredit the domestic agenda that the GOP was itching to enact: the tax reforms, the healthcare changes, the pro-business strategies of de-regulation. Well, thanks to the vagaries of the US voting system – in the end, 80,000 votes spread across three crucial states outweighed the three million vote majority that the Democrats racked up nationwide – they got Trump elected anyway, but the problem hasn’t gone away.

In the White House, Trump’s incompetence is threatening to torpedo the Republican policy agenda. So far, the likes of Paul Ryan and the rest of the GOP leadership have gritted their teeth and – shamefully – they’ve largely kept silent as Trump has violated ethical conventions, carried out a weird bromance with Vladimir Putin and threatened to tear up the Constitution. That’s why Scaramucci has been brought in to try and bring some order and discipline to the White House, at least in time for the midterm elections due late next year. He’s there to save the Republican Party from this Republican President.

The White House though is famously divided. Scaramucci is definitely Team Kushner/Ivanka, not Team Bannon. It is the Kushner/Ivanka duo that sees the salvation of Dad as entailing moving him closer to the Republican Party mainstream. Steve Bannon however, is the advocate for the Trump Party, and for the sympatico that exists between the Tweeter-in-Chief and his grassroots supporters – most of whom regard the Republican Establishment as being almost as much the enemy as Wall St, the Trilateral Commission and the Elders of Zion.

So to repeat – why should we be grateful that Trump is in the White House? Because he is making such a hash of selling the same old snake oil (tax cuts for the wealthy, roll backs of public education, removal of health insurance coverage for over 30 million Americans, demolition of environmental protections etc) that a smoother, less controversial Republican front man would have been more capable of peddling to the American public.

Another eighteen months of Trump – assuming he doesn’t start World War III in the meantime – should leave the machine politicians of the Republican Party lucky to get elected as the local dog catcher. Thankfully, not even Anthony Scaramucci may be able to save the Republican Party from the one man wrecking ball that is Donald Trump. For that reason alone… go, Donald!

Pardons, Me

With Don Jnr in all sorts of trouble over his electoral dirt-hunting meeting last year with Russian operatives, his Dad has been ruminating about what he thinks is his unlimited ability – as President – to pardon anyone, even if need be, himself. While a sitting President has unlimited power to pardon anyone including members of his own family – the power to pardon himself is a grey area, especially in the context of an impeachment. If it were straightforward, you can reasonably bet that President Richard Nixon would have used that power to exonerate himself for his role in the Watergate cover-up. It took a subsequent President to pardon Nixon, and President Gerald Ford paid a high political price for doing so. It cost Ford the 1996 election.

That’s where this power becomes a moot point. Theoretically, it might be possible for Trump to pardon himself but this would not be a barrier to Congress using its discretion to then impeach him over what could obviously be construed as a flagrant obstruction of justice. Such could be the outcome from the political backlash that would be triggered if and when President Trump pardoned members of his own extended family.

Impeachment is primarily a political process, so pardoning could not prevent a hostile Congress advancing proceedings against a president. Two University of Chicago law professors, Daniel Hemel and Eric Posner, writing in the New York Times, argue that if Mr Trump pardoned relatives he could open himself to the risk of being charged with obstruction of justice. If he were to pardon himself, questions would follow about whether it is valid, and it could ultimately end up in the Supreme Court.

Ultimately, Trump’s tweets about his powers of pardon should probably be put in the same category as his mutterings last week against his own Attorney-General Jeff Sessions. As others have noted, they’re just part of his schtick of trying to look like a strong leader – the boss with the swinging powers to fire and to pardon. Even if he doesn’t use them.

Still, the talk of pardoning has been a reminder of another contentious presidential pardon, which has had tentacles that reached quite close to home here, in the South Pacific. As President Bill Clinton left office in 2000, he controversially pardoned the crooked financier Marc Rich, whose wife – the prominent songwriter Denise Rich – had been a million dollar contributor to the Clinton campaign. When the Offshore Leaks tax haven revelations by the International Consortium of Independent Journalists broke in April 2013, it transpired that Denise Rich had stashed at least some of her wealth in the Cook Islands:

Records obtained by ICIJ show she had $144 million in April 2006 in a trust in the Cook Islands, a chain of coral atolls and volcanic outcroppings nearly 7,000 miles from her home at the time in Manhattan. The trust’s holdings included a yacht called the Lady Joy, where Rich often entertained celebrities and raised money for charity.

Pardons, Sung

Clearly, pleas for forgiveness should come straight from the heart, not political calculation. That’s the case with this great performance by Tom Waits and trumpet player Jack Sheldon, off the soundtrack for the Francis Coppola’s One from The Heart – a film that’s surely ripe for re-evaluation…

And here, from only a few days ago is a killer dance track about the sort of night impulses that can get you into pardoning yourself mode, come the morning after. Boy Harsher is a duo (the featured vocalist is Jae Matthews) from a college town in Massachusetts ie, the same neck of the woods that produced Dinosaur Jnr so many years ago…