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The Republican obsession with “identity politics”

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Last night, it was reported that Steve Bannon said he would “crush the Democrats” for talking about “identity politics.”

What is identity politics?

Sometimes we find different phrases used to describe the same thing; people with different points of view will prefer one or the other. The old adage “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” is an example.

Another is “identity politics.” When it’s used by right-wingers, as it was Monday in the Wall Street Journal’s lead editorial, it’s pejorative: “identity politics…seeks to divide Americans by race, ethnicity, gender and even religion” and, as such, is a “poison” and a “pathology,” the editorial thunders.

There is, of course, an entirely different way of interpreting the phenomenon, and that is in terms of the freedoms promised by America’s founding documents. The Declaration of Independence declares that “All men are created equal” and are “endowed” with the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” And the Constitution provides “We the People” with “a more perfect Union…in order to establish Justice.”

It is through these founding documents that the importance of what Dr. King called “the arc of the moral universe” must be appreciated. America started out as an exclusive white men’s club, in which others had no rights. Over the course of centuries, groups that had been disenfranchised have successfully lobbied for, and attained, their share of “Justice”: non-land-owning men, women, blacks, gays, children, Native Americans, the handicapped, immigrants, religious minorities, transsexuals and so on.

Surely this has been a happy development in our history. Greater freedom and liberty for all! The “shining city on a hill” Reagan loved. The “new birth of freedom” Lincoln celebrated in the Gettysburg Address.

So is the continuing struggle for Justice for all Americans a treasured part of the nation’s inheritance? Or is it the Wall Street Journal’s “poison” of “identity politics”?

It cannot be both. I choose to interpret the fight for freedom as the highest, most idealistic promise of what America always has aimed for. We are all Americans, yes, but we each of us also are members of many sub-groupings, and you cannot have justice in America if you take away the fruits of liberty from any of those groups and reserve them for the privileged few. I am a member, myself, of several sub-groups that have long suffered under the oppressive yoke of straight white male Christian dominion. I celebrate that we have managed to throw off that yoke, to lighten its load so that Americans everywhere can breathe more freely.

Yet Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal takes an opposite point of view. For them, the struggle to liberate each American represents an “obsession,” a “problem,” a “cudgel” of “identity politics,” which is “the politics of division.”

It might be well to understand this recalcitrance in light of Murdoch’s own situation. He is a white man. An old, straight, rich white man, upset at seeing the old order of his yesteryear shifting. It’s only natural for him to watch his hold on power disintegrate and find it “poison.” He is a Christian apologist, strongly pro-Catholic, a subscriber to a religion that has spent the last thousand years purging perceived heretics, often through murderous means. I suppose if I were an old, straight, rich white Christian man, with no capacity for moral empathy, and little respect for the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, I might feel the same way. “What right,” I might ask, “do these bumptious minorities have to ‘destroy democratic trust and consent’ [the Wall Street Journal’s words] in our great America? Why must we suffer these fools, with their marches, divisive demands and fake news?” I might, if I were mentally impaired, join one of those white supremacist Christian nation clubs and fire up my tiki torch to march under the banner of the swastika.

But that is not who I am, thankfully, nor do I think it is who you are, or the majority of us. But as we have seen, that is who some Americans, represented by the likes of Steve Bannon, are, and, far more dangerously, it is who and what our current president is. So the next time you hear somebody complain about “identity politics,” understand what you are really hearing. It is a screech of protest by selfish people afraid of losing their hegemony. It is the rage of disbelievers in the American commitment to “justice for all.” It is the cry of moral monsters.


Charlottesville: The aftermath

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Give yourself a pat on the back, anti-Trumpers. Your powerful, united Resistance to this nightmare is bearing fruit.

Yes, I know the battle is far from over. He’s still there. Still insane, still disgusting, still dangerous. And from the sound of yesterday’s “both sides are to blame,” moving further and further into Bannon lunacy. And, yes, his followers are as psycho as he is, with their stupid nationalism and white supremacism and violence.

But we made him put out that second Charlottesville statement! While it’s true that every word of it was a lie, we know that he had no choice but to say it—and how that rankled him! We forced him to stand down, to look like a befuddled fool—which he hates–and in the process, he ticked off the very white supremacists who constitute his base, who accused him of caving to libtards. Yesterday, of course, he walked back his “moderation” speech and allowed full vent to his inner nazi. Well, good. All the world sees him in his true colors.

You can be proud that our Resistance has become the most significant political movement of this still young 21st century America. You don’t agree? Name me another that has had so much momentum, that arose from the grass roots even before Trump was elected, and now is rolling, rolling across the nation like a mighty wave. Occupy? It came and went. The tea party? A close second, but in our Resistance to Trump we see the tea party in its death throes.

The tea party, you see, was tactically successful for a while, but they committed a huge strategic blunder: They failed to dissociate themselves from the nazi-KKK-fascist elements that always have infested their ranks. Many Americans are very conservative, especially right wing Christians, and their calls for smaller government, law and order, self-reliance and more diligent immigration policies have a certain intellectual coherence. Truth is, many Democrats are on the same page on these and other issues.

But rank and file conservatives are extremely ill at ease with images of angry white men wearing nazi regalia and carrying weapons while calling for people of color to “go back where they came from.” It would have, and should have, been easy for the tea party to denounce these extremists from the get-go, but they chose not to. In this, the tea party made the same mistake as Occupy, which failed to evict from its ranks the “black bloc” of masked thugs and vandals who, frankly, turned off millions of middle-of-the-road Americans (including me) who might have made Occupy a movement of true historical importance. Occupy committed suicide, by refusing to cleanse its ranks; and we see the same happening today within the tea party. Its fringe crazies are killing it.

So, fellow Resisters, weary not! Last Spring I heard many of you sigh in despair, “What can we do?” My answer was, “Anything you can. Write a letter to the editor, tweet your congress person, donate to a political candidate, talk to your family and friends.” That is still the best advice. Individually, we are small to the point of powerless. Collectively, we are America.

More than 25 years ago I wrote this cover story in the East Bay Express:

“The Nazis Next Door” exposed the stupidity and fatuousness of local Nazis and white supremacists who wore camo clothes and fought paintball battles in the East Bay woods, preparing for the day when they would slaughter Jews, communists, liberals, blacks and homosexuals. The three men I met, who let me get to know them (for which I was grateful), all were losers. Who knows where they are today. Dead? In jail? Perhaps they were in Charlottesville. Wherever they may be, their younger versions, who were complicit in the murder of Heather Heyer, also are losers, led by the loser-in-chief, Donald J. Trump. Resisters, you are winners. Future generations will hear of your heroic exploits in standing up to this regime, and compare you to the freedom fighters in occupied Europe who resisted Hitler’s nazis, and the civil rights marchers of the Sixties. Be proud! Remember these glorious days.


The tipping point: Charlottesville

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Donald Trump’s amended statement about Charlottesville is what is technically known as a “steaming load.”

For him to say “We must love each other and show affection for each other” is an insult to the words “love” and “affection.” This man has trafficked in hatred, resentment, fear-mongering, smears, lies, insults, bullying and sexual predation for his entire life. He has shown as much “love and affection” for others as James A. Fields, Jr. showed to Heather Heyer, a martyr to The Resistance.

His little revision yesterday was disgusting, pitiful and irrelevant. Nobody believes a word of it, except the racists who drool over Fox “News,” and even they are dubious. I am as angry as I’ve ever been in the seven months of his disastrous regime.

Now, onto the immediate future.

I see no reason why we shouldn’t be concerned that Trump has no intention of leaving the White House.

For any reason. At any time. For as long as he lives.

He is a dictator manqué. Is that a hyperbolic thing to say? Am I paranoid, a victim of a libtard’s perfervid imaginings?

Most of us see the authoritarian impulses in him. His admiration for foreign strong men (Putin, Duterte, Erdogan, Assad, Kim Jong-un), his disdain for both the Republican and Democratic parties, and his customary habit of being answerable to no one as a CEO all suggest that this is a man who will brook no quarrels, accept no compromises, see anything from anyone else’s point of view, or tolerate even the existence of those he perceives to be his enemies, which is more and more people and institutions in America.

Were Trump merely a megalomaniac, fantasizing about ruling the world, we could laugh at him and dismiss him, as the world laughed at and dismissed Hitler before he took power. But Trump is President of the United States of America, the most powerful man in the world. Compounding the problem is that millions of his followers love him, do not want him to cease being President, and have suggested that they are willing to take extreme action to prevent him from leaving office against his will.

There was, for instance, that notorious Washington Post poll last week showing that “52 percent of Republicans said they would back a postponement of the next election if Trump called for it.” This didn’t receive the national attention it warranted; in the tsunami of breaking news we’ve become accustomed to, this lacuna is understandable. But think about it. More than half of all Republicans are in favor of suspending or revoking Article II of the U.S. Constitution, the one that mandates presidential elections every four years.

If Republicans are willing to suspend one Article of the Constitution, obviously they’re willing to suspend others, especially the first ten Amendments (Bill of Rights) that guarantee Americans our religious, political, personal, judicial and civil liberties.

This is what dictators do. Not for them a clamorous free press, a noisy political opposition, the inconvenience of street protests. Dictators prefer the quiet efficiency of absolute rule: the Fuhrer, or Caudillo, or Duce, or President issues his edicts, and his underlings carry them out, all the way down the line. Those who object, or stand in the way, are dealt with, often summarily.

No less than Plato pointed out how democracies, in the throes of political chaos, may morph into tyrannies. The Founding Fathers, who certainly read Plato, understood this, and built in a system of protecting the new Republic with a series of safeguards, based on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. So undermining the Constitution is the first step towards fomenting tyranny in America.

It’s ironic that Trump, who never set out to start a national conversation about freedom and the Constitution, nonetheless by his insanity has done exactly that. Charlottesville, I believe, will go down in history with Lexington and Concord as pivot points in America’s long march into the future. Trump’s stupidity was exposed, and the viciousness of his storm troopers revealed. He is a fool and an idiot, an embarrassment for the entire world, the greatest stain on the American flag in the last hundred years, maybe ever. My patience has now worn entirely thin. So should yours. The Republican Party, starting in the Senate, must denounce this illegitimate President and demand his removal. If you’re as upset as I am—and I hope and think you are—then your work is clear: find every Republican you know: mother, father, sister, brother, cousin, in-law, friend, neighbor, co-worker, and tell them, plead with them in the name of God to get rid of this infection before it is too late.


Too little, too late from the inciter-in-chief

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It’s not a Saturday Night Live parody, but it could be: A professor of humanities at Columbia University complaining about “colleges and universities where liberal elites are formed.”

What’s that old saying about the pot calling the kettle black?

The professor is someone called Mark Lilla. He works in Columbia’s History Department, where he “specializes in intellectual history with a particular focus on Western political and religious thought.” Correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s about as elitist as academia gets. I’d like to be a fly on the wall in the faculty lounge at Columbia when Prof. Lilla is sipping a nice foamy latté as his colleagues approach him.

“Hey, Mark, am I a liberal elite?”

“Mark, were you talking about me?”

Well, that’s Lilla’s problem. His silly remark was in a column he wrote headlined “The Liberal Crack-Up,” about the alleged death of liberalism, and while it wasn’t surprising for it to be in the Wall Street Journal, what made it super-weird was Lilla’s use of the phrase “we liberals.” Prof. Lilla, I hate to break the news to you, but you’re not liberal. If anything, you’re a neocon.

Lilla’s thesis is that liberals need “a unifying vision.” He claims, falsely, that “identity politics” has destroyed the Democratic Party. Gay rights, women’s rights, Black rights, immigrants’ rights, transsexual rights—he wants nothing to do with any of it. It’s “done nothing but strengthen the grip of the American right on our institutions.” Well, that very notion itself is a mainstay of the American right, so why should Lilla support it? He’s correct about the right’s “grip,” but wrong on what caused it. Rather than complain about the way Democrats have embraced diversity, he should complain about Republicans becoming more fascist, white supremacist and theocratic every day.

Starting with the white supremacist-in-chief, the man who is personally responsible for Charlottesville: Donald J. Trump.

You know what I hate about this alt.right stuff? It’s their fondness for the past—a mythical, lost golden age. You see this longing in Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan. The key word is “again.” According to this analysis, we were better in the past than we are now. Well, let me remind this alt.right crowd, including the current president, that the past they yearn for was a time when women couldn’t vote, black people were slaves, non-European-Americans were hated, homosexuals were killed, child labor was the norm, Jews were discriminated against, and businessmen hired thugs to shoot unruly workers.

Is that what made America “great”? Do we really want to go there “again”?

Look, Trump has spent years stoking this white anger and resentment. It was the basis of his birtherism, which appealed only to unreconstructed racists. He sent endless dog whistles to these neo-nazis signaling his affections, and he hired people like Bannon, who was their champion at Breitbart, the Vatican of white supremacy. Trump is the de facto leader of the American fascist movement, and nothing he says now—no mentioning of “white supremacists” or “nazis”—can change that. It simply is too little, too late. Charlottesville blood, including that of the police officers who died, is on his small hands.

Trump may or may not be impeachable on Russiagate, but more than ever, he and his cohort—Bannon, Sessions, Gorka, Huckabee Sanders and the rest of the storm front enablers–need to go. The Republican Party is formally on notice: There will be Nuremburg justice, and it is you who will be in the dock.


7 ways how Hitler held onto power. Trump has replicated 6 of them

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Every account of Hitler’s first months as Chancellor of Germany by his contemporaries makes it clear that nobody expected him to last. He was a soap bubble that would soon burst; liberal democracy would return to Germany, as soon as the nation realized what a joke Hitler was.

Franz von Papen, who had been Chancellor prior to Hitler and in fact was Hitler’s Vice Chancellor from January 1933 until July 1934, in his “Memoirs” listed seven reasons why Hitler survived the uneasy early period and emerged as Germany’ dictator. There was a time—say, his first nine months in office—when Germany might have come to its senses and got rid of him. But this did not happen. As I go through von Papen’s seven reasons, I will point out the obvious analogies with Trump.

Von Papen’s Seven Reasons Why Hitler Succeeded

(The first six of these already has been replicated in the Trump regime. The seventh may well be, soon.)

  1. “The seemingly unconditional enthusiasm of his mass of adherents”

Hitler took office amidst a sea of joy from his supporters, who felt at last that they had seized power from the effete elitists of the Weimar Republic. Trump’s supporters likewise have so far displayed a fanatical devotion to their leader, and show no signs of abandoning him. Their dedication empowers Trump.

  1. “The idolization of his person”

By this von Papen means that Hitler had personally become a cult-like figure in Germany. He was seen as above and beyond mere politics—the embodiment of German hopes and history. Trump, too, portrays himself as possessing an almost mystical wisdom. “Nobody knows more about [fill in the blank] than me,” he has repeatedly boasted, whether it be foreign policy, jobs, ISIS, trade, nuclear issues, Iran, renewable energy, money, or infrastructure.

  1. “The Byzantine nature of his entourage”

Hitler’s top officials always were stabbing each other in the back, jockeying for the leader’s favoritism. Trump’s top officials too are at war with each other—at least, those who haven’t already been fired.

  1. “His own lust for power”

Hitler dreamed of supreme power for decades for achieving it. Trump similarly has been dreaming of running for president since at least the 1990s. He has finally obtained his goal, and won’t let go of it without a fight.

  1. “Lack of opposition from the bourgeois forces”

By using the old word “bourgeois” von Papen refers to what we would call “moderate conservatives,” particularly those who profess to be Christian. In other words, Germany’s 1930’s equivalent of the modern Republican Party. Trump, too, benefits from the craven fear of GOP leaders like McConnell and Ryan—although this may be shifting.

  1. “Insufficient resistance from the Conservative members of his first Cabinet”

Hitler’s initial Cabinet was by no means dominated by Nazis, but its members were curiously inert as he increasingly performed end-runs around the Constitution and became supreme leader. Trump’s Cabinet lost all independent credibility that day he forced them to publicly announce what a “blessing” it was to “serve” him.

7. “The fatal consequences of a war instigated on no rational grounds”

This is the one analogy that hasn’t materialized so far. Von Papen refers to the Second World War, which cemented Hitler’s hold on power (as it did for Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin as well). Trump hasn’t started a war, yet. But, as I wrote yesterday, there is every reason to believe he’s going to “wag the dog” with respect to North Korea and start a war that he thinks will keep him in power. That it will have “fatal consequences” seems not to be part of his thinking.

Have a nice weekend!

 

 


“Fire and fury”

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Stupid words. Bluster, sword-rattling, macho nonsense from a man so personally insecure despite his wealth and power that he has to have his staff hand-deliver positive news about himself, not once a day, but twice.

Some of us warned all along this is not a person whose stubby little fingers you want on the nuclear trigger. Now, here we are. When I woke up yesterday morning and got my San Francisco Chronicle, the headline on page 1 jolted me. “How would S.F. react to attack by nukes?” it read. Not well, I thought, and was involuntarily plunged in my mind back decades, to the 1950s, when as a schoolboy in New York City I would participate in “duck and cover” drills. The newspapers used to publish graphic maps showing the area of total devastation, depending on the megatonnage of the hydrogen bomb, if Russia dropped something on midtown Manhattan. Even then, it made no sense to us kids to seek safety underneath a little wooden desk: if New York went up in a mushroom cloud, desks wouldn’t protect us. Still, I suppose, from the point of view of the adults, to do something was better than doing nothing. Perhaps they thought we urchins would be reassured. (We weren’t.)

Donald J. Trump, was born on the same day, in the same year, in the same city, as I. He no doubt also participated in “duck and cover,” although I’m pretty sure his private school had fancier desks than Public School 35, in The Bronx, which is where I went. Now, we have a brand new “nuke scare” in America. The media roll out their charts of how many bombs we have versus Russia, China, North Korea and so on. They put up maps showing how long it would take for an ICBM from North Korea to reach Guam, Honolulu, Anchorage, San Francisco. We haven’t seen projected kill rates yet, but I’m sure they’re coming. It’s all so drearily familiar from the height (or depth) of the Cold War.

Perhaps Trump welcomes this. There’s always been a way out for him, a theoretical device he could use to keep himself in power no matter how unpopular he gets, and that’s to wag the dog. This is where a politician will manipulate an event that so scares the public that they support him, rather than his opponents, even if they have doubts about him. American Presidents have long been accused of wagging the dog. When Bill Clinton bombed Afghanistan and Sudan, Republicans said he wagged the dog to distract attention from the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Whether Clinton did or didn’t wag the dog, I think a lot of us predicted Trump would do it, if and when he felt the need to do so, which we suspected would come sooner rather than later. We didn’t know if it would be North Korea, or Iran, or Syria, or some other country, but we knew it was coming. It’s also been common, over the last seven months, for pundits to warn that Donald Trump has lied so often, and so blatantly, that when a real national crisis arises, the country, or large parts of it anyway, would not believe him. George W. Bush lost the popular election in 2000, and was widely disliked by Democrats, but he never developed the reputation as a liar and a cheat; so when Sept. 11 happened, the nation—including virtually every Democrat—rallied around him.

Trump won’t be so lucky. If he does something stupid against North Korea, a cadre of tea party/evangelical/military/white nationalists will stand by him, but large segments of the American populace will suspect that he has manipulated the Korean thing to divert attention away from RussiaGate and his other failures. There is ample justification to think so. He is a cornered rat. The Mueller walls are closing in; time is running out. What is a narcissistic, guilty authoritarian to do? Bomb something, cross your fingers, and hope that American patriotism will prevail. It will not. Trump’s self-vaunted political instincts, we now know, are vastly overrated. The voices in his head that he prefers to listen to, over those of senior military and diplomatic advisors, are fantasies. He is a sick, troubled man, and we need to get rid of him now.


What does the Constitution say about U.S. forces in domestic disturbances?

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I’ve been focused this week on the possibilities for civil insurrection, when Trump and/or members of his family and associates are indicted, as I believe they will be, and an armed right rises up in indignation. I’ve fastened in particular on a quote from a radical extremist on Breitbart, who seems to feel the nation’s security forces would back up Trump if things get bad. “If we do have a civil war,” he wrote, “we will win. We have cops on our side, the army on our side and America loving patriots like trump on our side.” 

I’m sure many on the right believe this, but will they really have “cops [and] the army” on their side? Conventional wisdom suggests that uniformed men and women tend to be conservative and Republican. It is useful to wonder, though, how “cops” and “the army” might actually respond, and what the law tells them to do. Let’s start with “the army,” by which I include all U.S. service members under the control of the President: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and National Guard. In the case of the latter, we think of National Guard troops as being under the control of a state’s Governor, but every member of the National Guard is also a member of the National Guard of the United States, so “when a Guardsman (or woman) is acting as a reserve of the federal forces, his [or her] commander-in-chief is the President.”

Clearly the President (and the Congress) have the power to commit U.S. troops overseas. But what about on our own soil? For that, you have to look at Title 10 of the United States Code, which “outlines the role of armed forces in the United States Code [and] provides the legal basis for the roles, missions and organization of each of the services as well as the United States Department of Defense.” This law is very explicit and explains exactly what the President can order troops to do, and what he cannot.

In general, Title 10 restricts, but does not forbid, the President’s power to deploy American troops domestically. (Obvious exceptions such as natural disasters and terrorist attacks are listed.) After Sept. 11, interest in Title 10 increased enormously, and Congress responded with revisions that have broadened the President’s ability to deploy troops in this country. In 2007, before Barack Obama became President, the law was expanded to include “insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy” as conditions warranting deployment. A year later—still before Obama—the law was again amended by further defining “domestic violence” as “[violence that] has occurred to such an extent that the constituted authorities of the State or possession are incapable of maintaining public order.” Rather than clarifying the issue, though, this further muddled it: Who determines when local officials “are incapable of maintaining public order”? Meanwhile, Congress insisted on the right to be kept informed of such deployment, but there are also big loopholes in this process. The language says:

The President shall notify Congress of the determination to exercise the authority in subsection (a)(1)(A) as soon as practicable after the determination and every 14 days thereafter during the duration of the exercise of the authority.”

Any determined President could argue that it is not “practicable” to notify Congress, citing emergency conditions; and it is not at all clear that the Congress or even the Courts could force the President’s hand.

Suppose that Trump is still in office when the insurrection occurs. Let’s suppose also that the Congress is still Republican-controlled. What would Trump do under these circumstances:

  1. There is fighting in and around the cities and suburbs of places like Portland OR, Atlanta GA, Austin TX, Seattle WA, Boston MA, Cleveland OH, Denver CO, Richmond VA, Washington D.C. and the San Francisco Bay Area?
  2. In conservative rural areas, armed groups of militiamen take over?

Theoretically, in both cases the President would have the authority to deploy Federal troops to quash the insurrections and control the violence. But let’s suppose further (it’s not so far-fetched) that the Mueller indictments have been issued and there are clear threats to the existence of the Trump regime. Might not an enraged, cornered Trump look over the scene, from his information-rich vantage point, to see which side was winning, and then, if it’s his, “shoot his wad” and take the plunge into civil war? He has already thrown his lot in 100% with the Breitbart-Bannon-tea party wing: people with a penchant for violence, who have declared their absolute resistance to any threat to Trump. Trump might allow the militiamen to retain control of their rural enclaves, tweeting that the militias are “patriots” safeguarding the Constitution. In the fighting around cities, Trump might decide that if heavily-armed right wing groups appear to be getting the upper hand over liberal “blue” forces, he would stand aside, and let the process play out. If, on the other hand, liberal “blue” forces started winning—say, in sanctuary cities—Trump might well decide to intervene by sending in Federal troops to crush them.

Trump might or might not notify the Congress if he decides to deploy his troops domestically. Either way, Republicans would be in roughly the same position they find themselves in now: Should they support a Republican President under any circumstances, even when he appears to be circumventing the law for his own purposes and plunging the nation and the world into total chaos? Or should they put country before party and form a coalition with Democrats to invoke Article 25 of the Constitution?

Of course, all this might be moot if Trump decides to launch a major war by nuking North Korea.

 

 

 


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