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DSR Network Highlights – Week of November 4, 2019

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We had two fantastic discussions this week.  On Tuesday, Rosa, Kori, Ed and David discussed the state of leadership around the world and the prospect of Tyranny in the United States.  On Thursday, David was joined by Ryan Goodman of NYU Law School and Co-Editor of Just Security, and Kate Shaw, a law Professor at Cardozo Law School with expertise in Constitutional and Election Law.  They discuss what the Democrats must do next week to lay out the case for impeachment to the American public.  We’ve included excerpts from both shows as some really great discussions took place.


It Can Happen Here As Tyranny Looms and Becomes More Likely Daily

David Rothkopf:
Well, yes, that’s undoubtedly true. Although the whole concept of democracy is, at least theoretically one of the best ways that one can take a diverse society and arrive at some kind of sense of, of the whole, despite the differences within that society and the United States, you know, just by all of our, our shortcomings seems to be, you know, as has been a fairly diverse society and represented divergent views from the outset. And has done that with varying degrees of success. Let me go to the flip side of this question for the last 20 minutes. We’ve got here Rosa. In another conversation with another sort of Washington observer who has a unique perspective and insight. The way that conversation went was that the person said, you know, I think we’re on the verge of, of tyranny in the United States. And this is not a wing nut who was talking. It was not somebody who’s prone to, you know, to exaggeration or hyperbole. But you know, the, the kind of leadership that we’re actually seeing here and around the world tends to be the kind that’s in its ascendancy is fundamentally anti-democratic, more authoritarian, more interested in concentrating power within an executive or within small group of people. Now, you know, one possibility is that a reaction to all this democracy that’s been going on, which is giving too much power to too many people. Another possibility is that this just happens periodically, but I have to say, I was pretty shocked. I was in a, you know, nice setting in Washington DC and all of a sudden somebody who was using a word that nobody has used with regard to you know, an American president, or a leader that’s been responsible for the US in 240 odd years with, you know, the possible exception of John Wilkes Booth jumping onto the stage at Ford’s theater and saying six Semper tyrannis. Um and so, you know, is the lack of leadership that we see in the world somehow related to the ascendancy of bad and dangerous leaders?

Rosa Brooks:
Yes, absolutely. I think that, you know, and there are psychologists who dedicate their lives to studying this, that in times of uncertainty and instability, people very often look for, you know, the strong man. Look for the authoritarian figure who will say it’s all going to be all right, I’ve got it figured out. Don’t you trouble your pretty little heads about these issues. You hand me the reigns, give up your rights, and in exchange I will take care of you. You know, I think that uncertain times make people vulnerable to being seduced by that kind of authoritarian edging towards totalitarian promises. You know, and it, it even sort of goes back to these age old debates about social and economic rights versus civil and political rights which have played out in all kinds of, in different ways, at different time periods. Uh from the, you know, the beginning of, of the 20th century to, to today. When things are really desperate, you know, do civil rights begin to seem like a luxury. And of course, you know, historically during the cold war, the communist states, China, Russia argued, Hey, you Americans have things the wrong way around. You give everybody the freedom to sleep under their own bridge. But you know, and we get that, that’s nice. But frankly we’re busy trying to feed people and that comes first. And of course we, American said, no, no, no, you don’t understand. You can’t have a successful economy or a successful anything if you don’t have, you know, a free market of ideas, et cetera. And I think we’re continuing to see that kind of tension in some ways and we’ve never really succeeded in reconciling that, you know that thirst for, I don’t care what you do, just keep me safe. Keep me from starving, you know, in the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. That’s all I care about right now. Democracy and rights are a luxury versus the insistence that no, you can never achieve any kind of enduring security or prosperity if you don’t also have those kinds of political freedoms. But I was gonna to say something more broadly about your conversation. It’s interesting. I on the one hand, as you know, I’m, I’m our resident crown of entropy bearer and apocalypse predictor. On the other hand, as you also know, until quite recently, I was very reluctant to say we were in a constitutional crisis. It is very striking to me how much in the last month, really since the whistleblower’s story went public and the incomplete transcript and now it turns out that Ukraine phone call went public and president Trump said he’s not going to cooperate with the impeachment and so forth, it’s really striking to me how much just in the four weeks or five weeks or whatever it’s been people’s awareness that we’re kind of teetering in this country, certainly teetering on the edge of a precipice, has increased. I think a lot of people who really were, you know, very much in the, it can’t happen here, It can’t happen here have suddenly gone, oh maybe it could. And you know, in my role as resident predictor of doom I will say that it can absolutely happen here. And, and in fact, the single greatest predictor of it’s happening here would be people continuing to insist that it can’t happen here. You know, the way you prevent slides into totalitarianism is not by saying, Oh, don’t worry. Don’t be silly. That’s not gonna happen. It’s by saying we need to be extremely attuned to these small moments and the success of small moments that get you there so that you don’t wake up one day and it’s too late. And that’s obviously a different conversation, but I do think, you know, the next year in this country is unbelievably important, right? We are now we are now a year and a day as we record this podcast a year and a day before the 2020 presidential election. And I think both on the impeachment front on the immigration Supreme Court front, on the electoral front. You know this year could be the difference between moving, lurching painfully toward some sort of political and cultural and social recovery versus lurching right over that precipice.

Listen to the episode here.


Let’s Not Screw Up This Impeachment Thing, OK?

David Rothkopf:
In this case. Yeah. The reality is if you look at Andrew Johnson’s case of ignoring a law passed by Congress, Trump did that. Abusing the Congress. Trump did that. If you look at Richard Nixon’s case of abusing power, Trump did that. If you look at Richard Nixon’s case of obstructing justice, Trump did that. If you look at bill Clinton’s case of lying under oath on an issue, Trump did that all the things that occurred in all of the impeachments that took place are cases you could make against Trump compellingly.

Kate Shaw:
And you know, and you left out failing to comply with congressional investigators, which was one of the articles against Nixon, right? So I think it’s right that to the extent that this precedent has some value, I mean, I don’t think that this Congress is constrained by what the last, you know, congresses that have done something close to, you know, either impeached in the house or just in the committee. I don’t think that constrains this Congress, but I do think that, you know, it can shore up the public case to the extent that the president’s team has gotten some traction in suggesting that breaks from precedent render the process illegitimate. It might be helpful to be able to sort of shore up what you were doing by saying this is totally consistent. And even the articles look consistent. And in particular though, Nixon obviously resigned and foreclosed further proceedings. Everyone agrees that he would have been, or most people agree, I don’t know if that’s true in 2019, but certainly in 1974, he would have been convicted and removed in the Senate. And and so if you try to, you know, sort of model to some degree these articles on those. And by the way, those, to your earlier point about sort of narrowness or breadth, Watergate is of course at the heart of the Nixon case, but there’s also stuff about the misuse of the IRS and the FBI to target enemies and the plumbers, right? You know, sort of private security operation inside the white house. So it actually did go beyond just Watergate even with Nixon. So so I do think that the history suggests, you know, going a bit broader is sort of a better advised path.

David Rothkopf:
By the way, I strongly recommend that people go Google it. Look at the Johnson articles of impeachment, look at the Nixon articles of impeachment, look at the Clinton articles of impeachment. And I just finished a book in which I look at the history of betrayal from Benedict Arnold to Donald Trump. And so I looked at a bunch of different kinds of betrayal, you know, working with foreign governments and espionage and so forth. But I also have a chapter where I’m looking at these articles of impeachment and if you read these articles of impeachment and just cut and paste the name, you know, it’s really stunning. And everything that you just mentioned with regard to the IRS or the plumbers and those are individual articles of impeachment and it makes a strong case.

Ryan Goodman:
Yup. so I’ve actually done this. So I’m going to read from it. Abuse of power just the exact way that you both have described in the way Kate had said like, just pitch it at this higher level to here’s the Nixon article and then transpose it onto Trump. So Nixon article, quote article 2 using the of the office of the president of the United States, Richard M. Nixon in violation of his constitutional oath to faithfully to execute the office of the president of the United States has repeatedly engaged in conduct impairing the due and proper administration of justice and the conduct of lawful inquiries or contributing the law governing agencies, the executive branch and the purpose of these agencies. The conduct is included one or more of the following. He has acted personally and through his subordinates and agents misuse the federal Bureau of investigation and other executive personnel by directing or authorizing such agencies or personnel to conduct investigations for purposes unrelated to national security end quote. And they just transpose it onto Trump. So here’s the Trump one, Using the powers of the office of the president of United States, Donald J. Trump in violation of his constitutional oath to faithfully to execute the office of the president of United States has willfully abused the power of the office by soliciting a foreign government to act for his personal gains and for a purpose unrelated to national security, or the enforcement of laws.

Listen to the full episode here.

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