I’m tired of the media saying that President Trump and his defenders “move the goalposts” as they try to explain their way out of various credible and often well-documented accusations of illegality or smarminess.
In fact, goalposts can’t actually be moved, which is just a figure of speech and not a reality, without completely changing the game — without rendering permanently moot the concept of substantiated fact (where the goalposts effectively, immovably are, in this case). It’s simply a sneaky, dishonest talking-point tactic.
So let’s stop talking about moving goalposts as if it’s a real thing, and instead talk about bald-faced lying, which is what only-figurative goalpost moving is really all about.
This shape-shifting of reality by the president and his minions is all part and parcel of a disturbing — and dangerous, in my view — description of American political life as a tale of two separate entities.
First, there is the rule-of-law entity, within which, as we’re seeing with this presidency, legal accountability for clear wrongdoing is fairly easily evaded. For example, we are told that then-candidate Trump through his lawyer Michael Cohen paid-off a porn star and a Playboy “Playmate of the Year” to hide past sexual affairs with them from voters on the eve of the 2016 presidential election. Which certainly sounds illegal to us lay folks. But, as the president’s so-called “TV lawyer” Ruddy Giuliani begged us to believe when it was revealed in court, “That’s not a crime,” because, he claimed, it wasn’t paid with “campaign money.”
But that’s not the right question, which should be, “Is it ethically and morally wrong, and should it reasonably be punishable in America?”
Second, according to politicians and pundits and just about everyone else it seems, there is purportedly a second parallel entity we reside in: the political realm. In this realm, we are led to believe, anything goes and everything can be explained away without consequence unless a majority of Congress disagrees with you and vote to hold you accountable.
A system that protects bad actors
You can see the fundamental problem here. If the president and his party control Congress, then Congress is effectively cowed into always voting as the president requires. This is because he can make re-election very, very difficult for lawmakers of his party if he decides to punish them for calling him out for any even actual, provable transgression.
So it’s clear that holding anyone accountable for almost anything in this slippery, largely amoral, morally fractured environment is a maddeningly arduous, often unattainable process. At best.
A ‘motion of no confidence’
What we Americans urgently need, therefore, is a process like the United Kingdom’s where their political CEO, the prime minister, may be removed from office with a simple “motion of no confidence.”
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines this process, alternatively known as a “vote of no confidence,” as “a formal vote by which the members of a legislature or similar deliberative body indicate that they no longer support a leader, government, etc.”
The U.K.’s “no confidence” process undergirds “a fundamental principle of the British constitution that the government must retain the confidence of legislature, as it is not possible for a government to operate effectively without the support of the majority of the people’s representatives,” according to a House of Commons fact sheet on parliamentary elections.
That sounds civilized. And as the elected government should reflect the desires of the people governed, it is reasonable that the governors should impart these desires proportionately in a vote of no-confidence if the electorate’s confidence flags.
Majority opposes Trump
In the U.S. at the moment, we have a president whom more than 60 percent of the electorate does not support and a large proportion actively reviles (according to persistent poll results), for myriad good and tangible reasons. But because our system requires both houses of Congress acting independently to remove a president — impeachment is the only legally available option for removal — one chamber, in this case the far smaller one (the Senate, now controlled by the president’s Republican Party), can block the will of the legislative majority.
A fairer, more representative system to remove a president would be the requirement that a specific percentage of opposition for both chambers combined — say 60 percent — could pass a motion of no-confidence and force a new election or some other process to replace the outgoing head of state.The singular U.S. system of impeachment now in place is, in effect, a judicial trial proceeding, where Congress is both judge and jury. And the charges involve violations of law, “treason, bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanors,” not incompetence, moral terpitude, behavior disgraceful to the office, or willful ignorance — all of which unquestionably inhabit the current president.
Walls closing in on president
Although the walls seem to be closing in on Mr. Trump regarding a number of illegalities he was and is allegedly tied to, the history of non-prosecution of presidents should give us pause in hoping he will be found guilty or held accountable for these. It takes a majority of the House to pass articles of impeachment on to the Senate for trial, and a two-thirds supermajority to convict in the Senate. A very high bar, indeed, to prosecute Mr. Trump, considering that a majority of the Senate now firmly supports him.
In the meantime, his other alarming deficits and personal failings are unassailable, and under the current system, although he has the support of only about 40 percent of the full electorate, he is effectively immune from accountability for these transgressions and to voters until the next election two years hence.
That’s a long, long time for American government to remain in the hands of a dangerous, amoral, narcissistic and likely criminal demagogue. A new BuzzFeed news report alleges, with what it says is documentary backup evidence, that the president directed his longtime lawyer Michael Coen to lie to Congress about Trump’s interactions with Russians during his campaign and after to secure a Trump building project in Moscow, although the project never came to fruition.
An analysis piece in the Washington Post raised this alarm:
“If Robert S. Mueller III has the evidence he reportedly has — that Trump asked Michael Cohen to lie to Congress for him — it could present something that’s been missing thus far from the public domain: an event so cut-and-dried that even Republicans would be hard-pressed not to consider impeachment.”
Democratic chairman of two House committees vowed to investigate, including California Rep. Adam Shiff, who told NPR (National Public Radio):
“Democratic chairmen of two House committees vowed to investigate. “These allegations may prove unfounded, but, if true, they would constitute both the subornation of perjury as well as obstruction of justice,” California Rep. Adam Schiff, House intelligence committee chairman, said in a statement Friday.”
But, as things usually go, I’m not holding my breath.
However, if we had a legal process available to remove a sitting president with a no-confidence motion, like the U.K. avails, and clear evidence a solid majority of the electorate opposes his leadership, we could do that right now. Why make it so hard?
It’s two years to the next election otherwise, and as everyone knows, two years in politics is an eternity. Especially as the thread holding the sword of Damocles perilously above our heads is badly frayed already.