Democracy as popular sovereignty is in danger...
The news reported in a late-night drop in The New York Times about a Trump insider offering information relating to classified documents and their storage in the basement of Trump’s Palm Beach residence must have sent a cold chill down the former ex-president’s spineless back. Details are lacking, but from what was reported Jack Smith has information that suggests Trump’s duplicity in refusing to turn over the documents until they were seized with a warrant by the FBI may be ongoing. Not such a revelation considering the Lago Lecher.
The Times story focused on several seemingly unconnected strands that include
a previous cooperating witness whose revelations proved less than forthcoming,
gaps in the surveillance videos subpoenaed by the Feds,
and the Trump connection to the Saudi LIV golf league.
According to the Times, Smith is untangling a web of dodgy activities involving Mar-a-Lago personnel that suggests that not only was there obstruction but that it continues and has broader implications. The insider who is cooperating may have knowledge of the handling of boxes of documents Trump took with him when he left the office that belonged in the National Archives. Video footage requested by DOJ from Mar-a-Lago security personnel shows Trump’s former White House valet, Walt Nauta, and other staffers handling top secret materials after they were requested by subpoena. This information would prove serial obstructions and a darker purpose than previously thought. Nauta was considered a cooperating witness at the time but recanted after investigators believed he was withholding information and may have been knowingly involved in criminal activity. Attempts to “flip” Nauta by threatening to charge him backfired:
Nauta’s lawyer informed the justice department that his client would never again talk to investigators unless he was charged or unless he was offered an immunity deal like what was offered to Trump adviser Kash Patel, according to multiple people familiar with the matter.
The Times article noted that DOJ investigators were also looking into a possible witness tampering charge based on information that potential witnesses in the probe would be provided legal representation paid for by Trump associates.
Whether all of the leads being followed are directly related to Smith’s investigation is not clear, but the foregoing revelations suggest the noose tightening around Trump and some of his closest aids on several fronts. An obstruction of justice charge against Trump seems more likely given the MAL “snitch” who could connect Nauta’s actions and that of another worker removing items from the storage area. The suggestion is that these documents— and Nauta’s suspected treachery— are intended to protect Trump and the import of the documents in question. Neither man would have had the required top-secret clearances to handle the documents and the authorization for their actions could only have come from Trump, whose lawyers certified that what was remaining in the storage room constituted the entirety of the subpoenaed material. What was Trump saving for later? Chances are Smith is on to something and the some parts of the mystery are interconnected.
A Bigger Deal?
For those who wonder if these discoveries will finally nail the ex-president, it may be beside the point. The charges swirling around the Trump entourage remind us that the battle to keep our eye on is the one outside the courts, beyond the Congress, and in the streets. There is a good chance that what was ignited in the U.S. with the election of Donald Trump is more involved, a movement that waited patiently for an opportunity. As has been written here many times, the crass, dim, and inhumane former president is the embodiment of the crass, dim and inhumane underbelly that has exists within our midst since our founding. It is telling and appropriate that the march of this movement has followed a succession of elections that were decided by a minority of the voters achieved through the gerrymandered manipulations of state and Federal elections. The Electoral College has evolved from its racist origins to serve its modern white masters whose dwindling populations mirror the need and consequences of the three-fifths compromise that created it:
What’s clear is that, more than two centuries after it was designed to empower southern whites, the Electoral College continues to do just that. The current system has a distinct, adverse impact on black voters, diluting their political power. Because the concentration of black people is highest in the South, their preferred presidential candidate is virtually assured to lose their home states’ electoral votes. Despite black voting patterns to the contrary, five of the six states whose populations are 25 percent or more black have been reliably red in recent presidential elections. Three of those states have not voted for a Democrat in more than four decades. Under the Electoral College, black votes are submerged. It’s the precise reason for the success of the southern strategy. It’s precisely how, as Buckley might say, the South has prevailed.
The will of the majority is no longer tempered by the protections against autocracy created by Madison’s Bill of Rights which were introduced into the Constitution as a shield against majority overreach. Due to the Electoral College brought into existence by the 12th Amendment in 1804, of the 5 elections for president in which the winner lost the popular vote, two ( Bush, 2000 and Trump 2016) have been in the first quarter of this century. The effects of gerrymandered elections is even more pronounced on the state and local levels and currently account for the slim majorities in the House of Representatives that reject vastly popular issues like abortion and responsible gun legislation that are dead on arrival due to GOP recalcitrance. Locking up Trump, while vastly satisfying and just, will not change what has become an American travesty. A smarter and more effective “Trump” awaits us unless we recognize the root cause of the inequities causing our current political mess. The GOP attacks on women, minorities, civil and voting rights is the culmination of the 12th Amendment’s intent— to favor a minority’s interests over the interests of all.
The efforts of the rule of law to right the ship of state, while well-intentioned, may be like bringing a garden hose to a four-alarm fire. The corruption we see on the surface is but the tip of a much bigger problem that looms hidden. The legal system whose courts interpret the law so as to degrade the protections of its citizens is in itself corruptive in a democracy and, therefore, serves the cause of anti-democratic forces who take advantage of such legal maneuvering. It is the basis of fascism that creates a governing majority through fear, manipulation, and control of existing institutions.
Political philosopher, Sheldon Wolin, refers to a state of political decay he called “inverted totalitarianism.” In his book Democracy Inc.: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism (2009), Wolin traces the unraveling of democratic practice beginning with the need for increased militarism to combat the Axis Powers in WWII through the Cold War and the 9/11 attacks. In a column written by Mike Masterson in the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Masterson reviews Wolin’s work and applies it to the more recent political scene:
Inverted totalitarianism is neither Republican nor Democratic in nature. Rather, it's a perverted form of gaining control. Government is created and democracy becomes managed while leading America into a larger, calculated order of things globally...
In short, inverted totalitarianism reverses our expected classical view of government first being answerable to the people.
"It's all politics all the time," Wolin writes, "but a politics largely untempered by the political. Party squabbles are occasionally on public display, and there is steady and continuous politics among factions of the party, interest groups, competing corporate powers, and rival media concerns.
"And there is, of course, the culminating moment of national elections when the attention of the nation is required to make a choice of personalities... . What is absent is the political, the commitment to finding where the common good lies amidst the welter of well-financed, highly organized, single-minded interests rabidly seeking governmental favors and overwhelming the practices of representative government and public administration by a sea of cash."
— The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, “Inverted totalitarianism,” by Mike Masterson, April 15, 2017
What’s there to lose…
Jack Smith and all the other prosecutors who are closing in on the multiple crimes of one Donald J. Trump are foot soldiers in a far more bitter fight for the soul of American democracy. This doesn’t end with the jailing of insurrectionists and scoundrels in suits, rather it begins with a concerted effort by folks on both sides of the aisle to decide to take back their government— to save it from the barnacles of perversion that have attached themselves to what was a grand, if imperfect, experiment. The cast of self-absorbed corrupt characters in Washington is both odious and dangerous to be sure, but they are mere players here. The power and corruption they wield are momentary. The real power sits behind the scenes whose selfish interests are rooted in corporatism and greed. It is a power not unlike that of a white, privileged Congress whose support for the ratification of the 12th Amendment has been used throughout our history to circumvent the 13th, 14th, and 15th which were ratified after the war. Known as the Reconstruction Amendments, they were attempts to “reconstruct” a nation divided by race and self-interests. Proponents hoped that ensuring the rights of all Americans to the promise the Constitution granted the privileged men of privilege who wrote it would even the playing field. It never happened as Jim Crow and the Ku Klux Klan reasserted viral bigotry. Over the last half-century, a movement has been afoot to “legally” reestablish pre-Reconstruction America by perverting and reinterpreting our governing documents to serve their purposes. When a flailing candidate Trump flippantly asked the black community in an effort to sway their votes, “What have you got to lose?” the answer may well have come out of Sheldon Wolin’s book that foreshadowed our current political reality:
“Thus, early on, while the people were declared “sovereign,” they were precluded from governing.”
― Sheldon S. Wolin, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism
… or in the words of singer-composer Kris Kristofferson, the answer is more poignant than the question asked as a facetious taunt:
Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose
Nothin', don't mean nothin', honey, if it ain't free…
— Me and Bobby McGee, by Kris Kristofferson