A Turning Point in American Politics

GELFAND’S WORLD – For the pro-Trump faction, time must now be divided into BTC and ATC, as in “before Trump’s conviction” and “after Trump’s conviction.” The differences are that stark, although the mass media are only slowly coming around to the realization. Curiously, the big clue lies in the bravado displayed by Trump supporters in “man on the street” interviews right after the decision came down. 

In the first few hours after Thursday’s verdict, TV news showed a selected group of Americans telling us with brave candor that the court decision would get Trump reelected. Others simply pointed out that there would be sympathy for the ex-president, and left it to our imaginations to fill in the blanks. We didn’t see anyone testify in the opposite direction as in, “Well, I have been a Trump supporter in the past, but this will definitely hurt his campaign chances.” 

It’s interesting that being caught cheating (Gary Hart) or crying (Muskie) or screaming into the mic (Howard Dean) or looking dorkie riding a tank (Dukakis) has been the kiss of death for Democratic presidential campaigns, but being found guilty by 12 men and women for being a crook is supposed to be a political benefit. 

I tend to doubt it. 

What is more likely is that the news business was faced with a maximal story and precious little time to put their clips together, and did their usual minimum to get “both sides” on display. I put the quotes around both sides because I don’t remember that kind of balance when Charlie Manson was convicted, or Scott Peterson for that matter. It’s rather to the contrary, actually, as a couple of unexpected acquittals here in southern California made us the laughingstock of the rest of the world. 

So on one evening last week and running into the weekend, reporters fanned out and tried to find people who would say something on Trump’s behalf that they could put on the air. Outrageous statements (as long as they aren’t completely insane) made the cut. They provided the spice for the stew which is otherwise going to be people looking at the camera quizzically and wondering how 34 felony counts is going to help anybody to endear himself to the voters. 

And there was something that was missing from Republican responses. 

The standard approach for a politician in front of a camera is to talk up the successes of his party and the superiority of their ruling philosophy. “We’ve cut taxes and increased employment and won world peace.” We didn’t hear any of that. We had the Speaker of the House claim that his friends on the Supreme Court would bail Trump out. I wonder if he has any idea how off-putting that statement is to any normal, honest voter — If you are thinking that the fix is in for your guy, it’s not an advantage for you to brag about it. In practice, I don’t think very many people took Johnson’s remarks seriously, because I don’t think that very many people bother to stay listening when Johnson goes in front of the camera. 

The optimistic point of view about such Trump supporter comments is that taken on their face, they add up to a concession speech. They don’t pretty it up with diplomatic language, but the underlying political despair is evident. 

There was one slightly subtle point in Trump’s post-verdict remarks that needs to be mentioned. 

Over the past few weeks, Donald Trump has been accusing the judge in his criminal trial of being “conflicted,” which apparently refers to a conflict of interest. The Trump faction usually points to the judge’s daughter, who has done work for Democratic Party candidates. (You can read about it here.) There are a few points which ought to be explored in reaction to this argument. 

The first is obvious to most of us normals. I think we recognize that it is possible to be honorable in one’s profession regardless of whether a family member is politically aligned. If some distant relative of mine is a robber or extortionist, that doesn’t make me the same. And most importantly, if a family member is a Democrat, that doesn’t affect whether I am or am not an honorable judge. 

So the most likely interpretation of Trump’s unhinged remarks about Judge Merchan being conflicted is that Trump himself imagines all other humans to be just like him — that is to say, morally corrupt and willing to be dishonest — and is incapable of recognizing honesty in someone who has it. 

But there is another interpretation of Trump’s increasingly whiney bleating about the judge. We begin with the observation that Trump engages in psychological projection just about as often as he engages in hamburger eating. That is to say, a lot. Notice that Trump’s most common attack against Hillary and Joe Biden is to refer to them as crooked. In all this time, he hasn’t provided a shred of data, but he has been able to get away with taunting his supporters about the claim that his opponents are criminally minded. 

This of course is the perfect description of Trump himself, as numerous examples show. The guy truly is crooked, and now we have the court verdict to show it. 

But there is one aspect of Trump’s criminal charges that he is not talking about. While president, Trump appointed judge Aileen Cannon to the federal bench in Miami. Trump, in his transactional way of thinking (the press uses this term a lot; it refers to the fact that for Trump, everything is a transaction where he is supposed to get something — an acquittal — for giving something — that judicial appointment). 

So notice that Trump and his lawyers don’t make a lot of public comments about the Miami Espionage Act cases. To Trump, it is just one more dirty deal. The judge has made numerous rulings that serve mainly to delay the trial so that it cannot take place in time for the November elections. Trump has his stooge on the court. 

And this is the case that would be most dangerous to him were it to be tried honestly and were he to lose. After all, he is accused of holding onto critical secrets (the combat effectiveness of our nuclear submarines) and trading them to a foreign national. It is the kind of case that would show him to be a traitor to our values. There are another hundred or so critical secrets to go along with the submarine material. 

But Trump doesn’t want the public to notice that he owns Cannon, so he makes the same accusation against a different judge, in this case the one who presided over his New York criminal case. The idea is that when you get in the first punch, it is harder for the other side to say, “No, it is your judge, not ours, who is conflicted.” 

It’s the oldest story in the political book. There is even a deliciously nasty story about LBJ, who was advised to accuse his opponent of having carnal knowledge of barnyard animals (so to speak). I can’t type in the rest of the joke here, but Trump is playing the same game of trying to get in the first licks in a street brawl. 

There is a problem for Trump and his minions with doing all this projection and whistling past the graveyard. It can work for a certain class of voter, namely the ones who want to support you and are just looking for some excuse — any excuse — to continue supporting you. At some level of politicking, it is good for a few votes. 

But it doesn’t work on all voters and the one place it won’t work is in the courts. That’s because judges hear lame excuses every day of their working lives. A guy caught red handed walking down an alley carrying a stolen television set tells the cops, “Some dude laid it on me.” Apparently free televisions are given out by total strangers in our nation’s suburbs, if you are willing to believe this line, but experienced prosecutors and judges just call it the “some dude” defense and leave it to the jury. 

The problem for the Trumps of the world is that when they try to make the same old dumb excuses in a courtroom, they get called on it. They are asked to provide evidence or testimony. Witnesses to the contrary are presented against them. 

Change of topic: A signing statement for neighborhood council participants who recognize the extortion that the city is engaging in. 

As I have written in these pages previously, the City of Los Angeles is attempting to place a whole new set of training requirements on neighborhood council volunteers. There are hours of online training videos, and there is a 5-minute code of conduct training. The code of conduct training is minimal in its time obligation, but it is not minimal in its use of threats and extortionate tactics. Here’s the extortionate part: If I don’t acknowledge the new code in writing, the city will suspend me from my neighborhood council board and then remove me. That by itself is bad enough, but the city has enacted a rule that any person so suspended will not count towards a quorum at a board meeting. In other words, the city can use my disagreement with their stupidly formulated code to kill off my whole neighborhood council, particularly if my council is marginal on getting a quorum together for meetings. 

The process for acknowledging the new code of conduct is fairly simple, in that you sign on to the city’s web site and click on the code of conduct. After scrolling through, you are asked to sign at the bottom. This would be no problem if we were merely acknowledging that we have received and read the code. But the code includes a statement that we should expect to be disciplined if we don’t follow the code, and that we can be removed through the process the city chooses. There is no promise of any due process, so we should probably infer that we can be removed from office through any sort of anonymous complaint, that we have no right to confront our accusers, and worst of all, there is no real definition that limits the sorts of charges that can be brought. 

But my neighborhood council has been threatened with the loss of a quorum if enough of us don’t sign on the dotted line. However, that dotted line is actually a box that allows one to type in a statement prior to signing one’s name. Here is what I typed in: 

” I acknowledge receiving and reading this document. I do not give up my Constitutional rights nor my rights under California law by signing here, and point out that the rules on inequitable conduct are extremely vague and essentially undefined. Robert Gelfand” 

In a future article here, I will have more to say about the city’s policy on neighborhood council training. In brief, the City of Los Angeles mirrors Florida governor Ron DeSantis in establishing an official ideology. In Florida, there is no such thing as global warming. In Los Angeles, there is no such thing as freedom of thought. We shall explore those ideas at a later time. 

(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected].). Photo:  Getty Images


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