President Ivanka?

Let’s do some fun speculation today!

Mike Pence might want to start sleeping with one eye open (gripping his pillow tight). Donald Trump’s trip to Japan and the Korean peninsula was predictably weird, ending with his impromptu play date with Kim Jong-un at the DMZ serving as a climax to an already botched excursion in which Royal Princess Ivanka Trump was crowbarred into the proceedings for some reason.

Cutting right to the chase, I think it might be possible that Lord Dampnut is grooming Ivanka, rather than Trump Jr., to succeed him. This is a move that would solve a couple of Trump’s most harrowing problems.

There’s apparently a rumor circulating among Republican circles in Washington in which Trump suddenly declines the nomination sometime next summer, presumably for health reasons, then lobbies the convention delegates to toss their votes to Ivanka as his rightful heir and the 2020 nominee.

Don’t shoot the messenger! It’s an actual thing, as far as rumors go anyway. Here’s some possible calculus behind such a radical move.

There are two possible ways for Trump to avoid federal charges when he leaves office (assuming he leaves office): One is that the next president decides not to investigate the previous president and orders his attorney general and U.S. attorneys to back off, like Obama did with the Bush administration. The other is a presidential pardon.

The first option is definitely a possibility. Newly inaugurated presidents have never really allowed their attorneys general to investigate the previous gang regardless of what they’ve done. It’s a long-standing tradition, for better or worse, that if interrupted, could trigger an endless cycle of vengeance in which each new president pursues criminal charges against the former president of the other party.

Trump’s ascension launched a new paradigm for presidential politics however, with social media users and especially Trumpers driving the rejection of old presidential traditions. So it might be possible for, say, former prosecutor Kamala Harris to deviate from tradition and go for the indictment of her predecessor. As long as she’s willing to risk being investigated should a Republican succeed her, she could easily do it. Same goes for the other leading candidates. I don’t think anyone would lose sleep over this, other than some historians and anyone with the last name “Trump.”

The second option requires a move that Trump has explicitly stated he’ll never make: Resigning the presidency. Trump said recently, “I don’t leave,” which was an utterly chilling remark for those of us who still hope for a peaceful transfer of power. There’s always a possibility that Trump will refuse to accept the results of the 2020 election if he loses.

Of course, the inauguration of the next president on Jan. 20, 2021, would likely just proceed without him, maybe with Trump hunkered down inside the White House. Under the Constitution, the new president takes office at noon on Inauguration Day, no matter what the old one does.

No one knows exactly how that would work, given it’s never happened before, but chances are the screeching on Trump’s Twitter feed wouldn’t prevent the next president from being recognized as the rightful chief executive. That would largely depend on how much backup he gets from Republicans in congress though.

Even if you take “I don’t leave” to mean Trump doesn’t plan on resigning, at some point, Trump might realize there’s only one solid, reliable way to keep himself from being indicted after leaving office. Perhaps as more Democratic presidential candidates announce their intentions to prosecute Trump and other conspirators, as Beto O’Rourke did in the debates last week.

He’ll need to step down and allow his vice president to be sworn in. That new president is the only human being who can realistically, legally and legitimately pardon Trump. It’s the Nixon/Ford scenario of 1974.

There’s obviously the nightmare scenario in which Trump is re-elected next year, forestalling an indictment. That still doesn’t get him off the hook entirely, though. Trump can’t legitimately pardon himself (probably). Even this Supreme Court might not permit such a preposterous move.

If he thought he could do it himself, he likely would’ve done it already. The next Republican president, meanwhile, has to wait until the 2024 election, but Trump could already be in prison by then.

If Trump wants a foolproof escape hatch, it has to be a resignation followed by a pardon.

That’s where Princess Ivanka comes in.

There’s an outlier chance the rumor is true and Trump will try to install Ivanka as the nominee, replacing himself at the top of the 2020 ticket, with a pardon waiting in the on-deck circle. But I’m not sure she would have a better shot at winning than her dad. Then again, Trump’s rise to power means anything’s possible.

Assuming he doesn’t pursue this radical notion of persuading the convention to nominate Ivanka in his stead, I see a chance Trump might replace Mike Pence with Ivanka as his running mate.

Before you poo-poo the idea, bear in mind four things:

1) Trump is now the nominal head of the party.

2) The Republican National Committee has basically merged with the Trump re-election campaign

3) Mike Pence’s name was conspicuously absent from the campaign signs and other materials during Trump’s kickoff event in Orlando (was he even there? I can’t recall).

4) Ivanka was conspicuously present schmoozing with world leaders at the G20 in Osaka over the weekend.

Despite Pence’s groveling loyalty, Trump might want to bring the vice presidency into the family. That would ensure that if Trump needs a pardon, it’s waiting for him no matter what. Remember, the Trump crime family is all about Mafia-style omertà and unquestioning loyalty (to the boss anyway). Who knows if a hypothetical President Pence would want to spend what little political capital he would have on a pardon?

That might not be in Pence’s self-interest. With a Trump/Trump ticket, dad is free to resign at any time after he’s sworn in for a second term, followed by an immediate pardon from his daughter, the new president. And as a bonus, the Trump dynasty is established!

Trump’s only other option is to try to invalidate the 2020 election if he loses, and he’s already starting to lay the groundwork for such a plot. He’d probably need a hell of a lot more than a kooky conspiracy theory about nonexistent California voter fraud to convince even this Supreme Court to overturn a legitimate vote in the Electoral College though.

We should prepare ourselves for the possibility that Trump will stop at nothing to keep himself out of prison. Even a traditional, by-the-book Trump re-election would only be a temporary measure. Some are predicting New York will step in to slap him with state charges. But New York’s attorney general is pursuing civil charges rather than criminal charges at the moment, so relying on the Empire State to pick up the slack is iffier than you might think.

The only way Trump gets prosecuted for obstruction of justice and other charges arising from the Mueller Report, or anything else in his galactic series of potential crimes, is via a Democratic administration’s attorney general. The only way he avoids those charges is through a pardon or the next president’s refusal to prosecute. I don’t believe Trump plans to leave his fortunes to the tender mercies of a President Sanders or President Warren. And I don’t think he trusts anyone outside his inner circle to pardon him.

The best-case scenario for the nation is a Trump loss in 2020 and a Democratic presidential inauguration in 2021, with Trump’s prosecution proceeding soon thereafter. He has to see this possibility growing larger through the front windshield every day. So, he’ll have to do some shuffling to maximize his successor’s loyalty while doing whatever is necessary to win re-election. Ivanka could be his version of the Chernobyl reactor’s AZ-5 button, his failsafe mechanism to abort any possible prison time.

Attack on Titan

NASA announced last week that it had selected the Dragonfly mission to explore the prebiotic organic chemistry and look for signs of life on Titan. At 3,200 miles (5,150 km) across, Titan is the largest moon orbiting Saturn and the second-largest natural satellite in the Solar System. Larger than both the Moon and the planet Mercury.

Image result for Titan

Because it is so far from the Sun, about 886 million miles (1.4 billion km), its surface temperature is minus 290 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 179 degrees Celsius). Its surface pressure is also 50% higher than Earth’s.

Titan has a dense, nitrogen-based atmosphere like Earth. Unlike Earth though, it has clouds and rain made of methane. The moon’s weather and surface processes have combined complex organics, energy, and water similar to those that may have sparked life on our planet. Other organics are formed in the atmosphere and fall like light snow.

The Mars rover-size, drone-like vehicle will have eight rotors and will fly to dozens of promising locations on Titan looking for prebiotic chemical processes common on both Titan and Earth.

Dragonfly will visit a world filled with a wide variety of organic compounds, which are the building blocks of life and could teach scientists about the origin of life itself. The rotorcraft will fly for miles across the organic sand dunes of Saturn’s largest moon, investigating the processes that shape Titan’s extraordinary environment.

It will take advantage of Titan’s dense atmosphere to become the first vehicle ever to fly its entire science payload to new places for repeatable and targeted access to surface materials.

During its 2.7-year baseline mission, Dragonfly will explore diverse environments from the organic dunes to the floor of an impact crater where liquid water and complex organic materials key to life once existed together for possibly tens of thousands of years.

Dragonfly is scheduled to launch in 2026 and reach Titan in 2034.

They Haven’t Learned

The media showered Donald Trump with unnecessary attention all last week in honor of his re-election rally kickoff in Orlando, Florida. The coverage was so reminiscent of 2016, that it raises fresh concerns about whether the news media has learned anything from previous campaign about covering a whiny bully like Trump. Will journalists still view him through the lens of celebrity and hold him to almost no substantive standards, while echoing his lies and bogus attacks on his enemies?

Coming off the monumental failure of 2016, the press seems poised to stumble through another campaign to failure. Especially since, following the 2016 debacle, many in the press refused to concede that any mistakes had been made, let alone offer up much serious self-reflection.

It’s likely the White House loved how rally week played out, with an avalanche of coverage that mostly regurgitated Trump’s stale, familiar rally speech, which leans heavily on victimhood. One of the media themes regarding Trump’s event was that, with his endless attacks on Hillary Clinton, he’s stuck in the past.

But the same point can be made about the press, which seems determined to hit rewind for 2020. And that means a return of the circus-like, spectacle-type campaign coverage Lord Dampnut loves.

Last week the press sent some 500 journalists to Orlando for the indoor event. But what exactly was the point of the endless media attention, considering that Trump has held more than 50 rallies since taking office?

Trump talking = news is a ridiculous formula for newsrooms to be using in 2019. Yet last week, ABC News adopted the premise, when the network aired an hour-long prime-time special of, well, Trump talking. There was no news hook for the unusual programming event, which featured ABC’s George Stephanopoulos shadowing Trump over the course of two days and recording Trump lying relentlessly. Not surprisingly, it was a ratings flop.

Still, the press seems committed to the idea that every Trump utterance is wildly important and newsworthy. Here’s how The New York Times reported Trump’s rally:

“President Trump delivered a fierce denunciation of the news media, the political establishment and what he called his radical opponents on Tuesday as he opened his re-election campaign in front of a huge crowd of raucous supporters by evoking the dark messaging and personal grievances that animated his 2016 victory.”

Subtract the phrase “opened his re-election campaign,” and that paragraph could have easily been published during any month in the last four years. We’ve seen this Trump show over and over and over, to the point where it’s quite obviously not news. Weirdly enough, the Times acknowledged that fact in its report, “in the end, it was not so different from the dozens of rallies he has held during the past two years” yet they still treated the rally as front-page news.

In fact, lots of other journalists commented on the ho-hum nature of the event. CNN’s Betsy Klein wrote on Twitter, “I was promised new material.” The Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty added, “When Hillary Clinton runs in 2020, Trump is totally ready for her.”

In others words, Trump hyped up the rally as a huge event. The press played along and treated it that way, even though reporters in real time conceded the rally was something of a big fat nothingburger. Guess who walks away the winner in that scenario. To its credit, MSNBC did not carry Trump’s rally live Tuesday night, while CNN broke away after five minutes (although they did show his empty podium for a while). Naturally, Fox News aired the event in its entirety.

And yes, the rally coverage featured the hallmark media whitewashing that so often protects Trump supporters from the harsh glare of reality. Trump was met in Orlando by “cheering and chanting supporters,” reported USA Today, and by “thousands of adoring supporters,” according to Politico.

Both of those cheerful descriptions remind me of the bland, innocuous ways his supporters were often described in 2016. What has traditionally been missing from the nonstop deluge of Trump voter stories? A look into the dark nature of Trump Nation, and an open acknowledgment that his base is often fueled by racism.

Trump’s candidacy was driven by immigrant-bashing, and so too has his presidency. But when journalists profile his faithful supporters, acknowledgment of Trump’s racist rhetoric rarely comes up. The problem with that type of whitewashing is that the Orlando rally attracted throngs of white nationalists, who clearly have become part of the Trump’s political coalition, and whose presence was not mentioned in most press reports. The whole fascist vibe of the rallies is badly underplayed by the press.

Trump spouting off doesn’t qualify as news. But will the press acknowledge that before 2020?

The Next Nightmare

Polls currently show that all of the major Democratic presidential candidates are pulling way ahead of Donald Trump. While Democrats should take nothing for granted, there is at least some reason hope that Americans will turn out in large numbers and Trump will be soundly defeated in 2020. That victory would be both exciting and an enormous relief, a moment when we can collectively begin to believe that the national nightmare is ending.

If that does happen, the next nightmare will likely begin. It may be minutes, hours, days, or even weeks, but at some point between Election Day November 2020 and Inauguration Day January 2021, odds are that Trump will declare that the election was “fake news” and refuse to vacate the White House. There will be no peaceful transfer of power.

This past weekend showed some disturbing signs of this. Internal polls commissioned by the Trump campaign were leaked, showing that he is trailing badly in several battleground states. In response, Trump angrily called the polls “fake” and then fired the pollsters.

He also suggested on Twitter (where else?) that it was possible “the people would demand that I stay longer” than two terms of office, using his joking-not-joking strategy to suggest that he’s not hemmed in by laws or the Constitution when it comes to retaining power.

A talking point of Democrats who are reluctant to begin an impeachment inquiry is that Trump needs to be removed at the ballot box, not by impeachment. The argument is that Trump can’t be removed from office through impeachment since Republicans, who control the Senate, will refuse to convict him no matter how much evidence there is. Which is true. With rare exceptions, Republicans have shown that there is no level of criminality Trump could display that they are unwilling to accept, so long as it allows them to retain power.

But it’s also why there’s a real danger that, if and when Trump refuses to leave office after an electoral defeat, Republicans will go along with it. And why not? They haven’t drawn any line yet when it comes to Trump cheating or breaking the law. On the contrary, Republicans were already flouting the law in their attempts to retain control over all levels of the government even though a majority of Americans have rejected them at the polls. So far, there appears to be no limits to what Republicans will allow, so long as it entrenches their power.

Republicans have been doing it even before Trump came along. Gerrymandering and voter suppression efforts predated his candidacy, taking off in earnest after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. Mitch McConnell refused to hold any hearings for Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, on totally bogus pretenses so he could hold the seat open for a Republican president to fill. This trend goes back to the 2000 Bush v. Gore decision, in which the Supreme Court’s conservative majority handed George W. Bush the presidency rather than allowing a recount in Florida.

McConnell’s response to the Russian criminal conspiracy to undermine the last election has been to reject any effort to prevent such conspiracies in the future. Bills have been written and passed by the House to shore up election security and McConnell simply refuses to bring them for a vote. Trump made clear, in his interview last week with George Stephanopoulos, that he fully intends to cheat in 2020 the same way he cheated in 2016. McConnell’s response has basically been, “Cool!”

Republicans are so complicit in Trump’s criminality that it is simply a statement of fact to note there is no chance that the Senate would vote to convict Trump in an impeachment trial, no matter how serious his crimes are. If they refuse to throw him out for being a criminal, why would they throw him out because he lost an election?

We have to presume that Trump and the Republicans will not be hemmed in by law or custom when it comes to holding onto power they haven’t earned. It would be deeply unwise for Democrats to pin their hopes on the possibility that Trump will suddenly, after all this time, become the kind of man who would admit he lost an election, or that Republicans will finally decide that there’s such thing as “going too far” when it comes to taking power in defiance of democratic will.

How should we deal with it when Trump declares the election void and Republicans back his play? The time to plan for that is now. Being caught flat-footed and scrambling to catch up will only make it easier for Trump to entrench the idea that his hold on the White House is absolute, just as he and Republicans have entrenched the idea that it’s normal and acceptable for the Senate to refuse to convict him no matter what.

Unless Democrats move swiftly and forcefully when Trump refuses to leave the White House, (and they need to plan for “when,” not “if”) Republicans will be able to make the Trump Dynasty feel inevitable, as they’ve done with other successful efforts at gutting American democracy.

The Beast is Freed

Over the last few months, we’ve have grown accustomed to Donald Trump in his cornered-rat mode, lashing out and ruminating obsessively over the possibility of his impeachment. But his tweets so far this week have been surprisingly cheerful, and a cheerful Trump is bad news for everyone.

First, overcome with the pleasures of racist sadism, Trump tweeted o Monday night that “ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens.” No reason to think that’s not going to be horror show.

Trump’s gleeful sadism continued a few hours later, when the always highly caffeinated Gröpenführer wrote, at 1:10 a.m. on Tuesday, “Only a few people showed up for the so-called Impeachment rallies over the weekend.” “The numbers were anemic, no spirit, no hope,”

As painful as this is to admit, Trump is right that the impeachment rallies attracted poor turnout. That’s not due to a lack of public support for an impeachment inquiry however. More than half of Americans support at least an impeachment investigation, which is much higher than support for impeaching Richard Nixon was before the Watergate hearings began. Instead, as Trump correctly diagnosed, the low turnout was because liberals and progressives are demoralized, since it seems the House Democratic leadership is determined to do nothing to shine a light on Trump’s extensive corruption and criminal behavior.

After Trump admitted on camera that he’s open and eager to keep doing crimes, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi remained as firm as ever on her refusal to start an impeachment inquiry. If Trump telling us that he plans to commit more crimes won’t move the needle, a bunch of people in a plaza with witty-but-angry slogans on a placard isn’t going to do it either. So of course the only people who showed up are the insufferable types who actually enjoy protests.

Trump has realized that he can do whatever he wants and no one is going to stop him. Which is clearly his greatest pleasure in life, one that even outstrips buying the silence of porn stars whom he pressures into underwhelming sex.

Half the reason Trump does bad things is because he gets off on getting away with it, as demonstrated by the innumerable contractors he’s screwed over and the wives he’s cheated on (all of them). He infamously bragged, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” Apparently, it also won’t’ convince Nancy Pelosi to allow an impeachment inquiry.

Pelosi’s reaction (continue to do nothing) to Trump’s admission to Stephanopoulos that he would be happy to commit more election fraud in 2020 lets him know there are no limits. There’s nothing he can do, no crime so big that he can admit to doing, or say he would do again, that will actually propel Democratic Leadership to allow an impeachment inquiry.

Starting the inquiry and taking stronger measures to arrest witnesses who refuse subpoenas would go a long way towards wiping the gloating smirk off Lord Dampnut’s face. But for some reason, Democratic leaders seem more interested in complaining that no one cares about their go-nowhere health care bills than in taking the fight to Donald Trump.

So it’s no wonder Trump is feeling good. He realizes that accountability for his abundant misdeeds isn’t coming and he’s free to do what he wants with no danger of facing any consequences. Trump has slowly become more emboldened over the past couple of years, but now he’s coming into the realization that the Blue Wave of 2018 was not the threat to his power he thought and feared it was. Now there’s reason to worry he’ll conclude the same about the prospect of losing the 2020 election.

What happens when a man who has no moral compass realizes he can do whatever he wants without consequence?