Donald Trump is a symptom of a democracy coming apart at the seams
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during an interview with Reuters in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., April 27, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Welcome to another edition of What Fresh Hell?, Raw Story’s roundup of news items that might have become controversies under another regime, but got buried – or were at least under-appreciated – due to the daily firehose of political pratfalls, unhinged tweet storms and other sundry embarrassments coming out of the current White House.


Even if he's defeated next year, this country will never be the same again after Donald Trump's presidency*. Sure, we would return to normalcy to a significant degree with a POTUS who speaks coherent English, adheres to reality, relies on experienced advisors and respects minimal norms of presidential behavior, but the right-wing id that's been unleashed since Trump descended that tacky golden escalator in 2015 is never going to be fully contained. We have shown the world a side of ourselves that many people didn't know existed. He's re-ordered the international community in ways that are irreversible.

This week, Thomas Pepinsky, a professor of government at Cornell University, wrote a chilling piece for Politico arguing that what we're experiencing in the age of Trump is something political scientists refer to as "regime cleavage," which is "a division within the population marked by conflict about the foundations of the governing system itself—in the American case, our constitutional democracy."

For decades, Republicans and Democrats fought over the same things: whose values and policies work best for American democracy. But now, those age-old fights are changing. What was once run-of-the-mill partisan competition is being replaced by a disagreement over democracy itself.

This is particularly evident as the president and many of his allies crow about the illegitimacy of the House impeachment inquiry, calling it an attempted coup, and as the White House refuses to comply with multiple congressional subpoenas as part of the probe.

This marks a new phase in American politics. Democrats and Republicans might still disagree about policy, but they are increasingly also at odds over the very foundations of our constitutional order.

In societies facing a regime cleavage, a growing number of citizens and officials believe that norms, institutions and laws may be ignored, subverted or replaced.

And there are serious consequences: An emerging regime cleavage in the United States brought on by President Donald Trump and his defenders could signal that the American public might lose faith in the electoral process altogether or incentivize elected politicians to mount even more direct attacks on the independence of the judiciary and the separation of powers. Regime cleavages emerge only in governing systems in crisis, and our democracy is indeed in crisis.

I'd urge you to read the whole essay.

It is difficult to know to what degree Trump's wanton refusal to behave like a normal person, much less like a president of the United States, led us to this point and to what degree his illegitimate election was symptomatic of a longer trend of a democracy in decline. One can draw a clear line between Newt Gingrich's Republican Revolution in 1994, the rise of right-wing hate-radio and Fox News around that same time, and Donald Trump. Perhaps the best way to understand his role is as an accelerant--gasoline thrown on some ugly burning embers in our society. Either way, this toothpaste will be impossible to put back into the tube in the foreseeable future.

And with that happy note, let's move on to this week's roundup.

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We’re having flashbacks.

Former Republican Rep. Bob Livingston, who played a central role in Bill Clinton’s impeachment before resigning in disgrace when his own extramarital affairs came to light, “has surfaced in the ongoing investigation by federal prosecutors in New York into efforts by President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and his associates in connection with Ukraine,” according to ABC.

And then there’s Michael Milken, who in the 1980s “embodied Wall Street greed. A swashbuckling financier, he was charged with playing a central role in a vast insider-trading scheme and was sent to prison for violating federal securities and tax laws,” according to The New York Times.

[Now he’s] a leading proponent of a new federal tax break that was intended to coax wealthy investors to plow money into distressed communities known as “opportunity zones.” The institute’s leaders have helped push senior officials in the Trump administration to make the tax incentive more generous, even though it is under fire for being slanted toward the wealthy.

Mr. Milken, it turns out, is in a position to personally gain from some of the changes that his institute has urged the Trump administration to enact. In one case, the Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, directly intervened in a way that benefited Mr. Milken, his longtime friend.

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Luppe Luppen and Hunter Walker report for Yahoo News that back in those heady days of Bill Clinton’s impeachment, the Office of Government Ethics issued an opinion that the president could not accept free legal representation because “a lawyer providing the president with free legal services, or a donor who subsidized those services so the president would not have to pay out of his own pocket, might appear to have substantial leverage over America’s most powerful elected official.”

Anyway, Rudy Giuliani has confirmed that he’s been representing Trump pro bono. We do know that he “was paid $500,000 for work he did for a company co-founded by the Ukrainian-American businessman arrested last week on campaign finance charges,” according to ReutersThat businessman and his associates were funneling millions of elicit dollars to Republican officials. They were photographed with Trump.

What does this all add up to?  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

House Democrats are reportedly interested in getting answers.

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On the campaign trail, Trump promised that he would represent the interests of the “forgotten men and women" of America. How’s that going?

WaPo reported this week that, “billing himself as one of President Trump’s top fundraisers, Michael Hodges told fellow payday lenders recently that industry contributions to the president’s reelection campaign could be leveraged to gain access to the Trump administration.”

 “For example, I’ve gone to Ronna McDaniel and said, ‘Ronna, I need help on something,’ ” Hodges said, referring to the chair of the Republican National Committee. “She’s been able to call over to the White House and say, ‘Hey, we have one of our large givers. They need an audience. … They need to be heard and you need to listen to them.’ So that’s why it’s important.”

[...]

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), the chair of the Financial Services Committee, is an industry “hater,” and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) would pose a big threat if elected president, Hodges and three other industry insiders said during the talk. They called Trump their “ultimate backstop” against attempts to defeat legislation the industry wants.

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Speaking of broken promises…

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And another, via Bloomberg

"Robert E. Murray, the U.S. coal baron who pressed the Trump administration to help save America’s struggling miners, placed his company into bankruptcy as demand for the fossil fuel continues to weaken."

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“The Department of Health and Human Services announced a new proposed rule on Friday that advocates argue would allow agencies receiving federal dollars to discriminate against individuals based on sexual orientation, among other things,” reports ABC News.

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Trump is reportedly shopping his DC hotel. Given that a good chunk of its revenues come from foreign and domestic emoluments which would disappear if Trump no longer owned the joint, one has to imagine that if they unload it to some sucker at its full current value, that would probably constitute some kind of corrupt payoff to Trump unto itself.

CREW:

The cost of a basic room at Trump’s DC Hotel is nearly three times its average rate on November 7th. Conspicuously, that’s the night between Senate Republicans’ two day retreat at Trump’s Hotel. Filling the hotel with a who’s who of Republican power players serves as an invitation for anyone looking to influence the government, and the hotel’s role as a hot spot for influence peddling has helped to make it one of the few bright spots in Trump’s financial portfolio.

They’re so brazen.

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Nobody could have seen this one coming…

Smuggling gangs in Mexico have repeatedly sawed through new sections of President Trump’s border wall in recent months by using commercially available power tools, opening gaps large enough for people and drug loads to pass through, according to U.S. agents and officials with knowledge of the damage. [via WaPo]

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Here’s the story that we think should have dominated the headlines this week, via CNN:

Hundreds of millions of people worldwide are at risk of losing their homes as entire cities sink under rising seas over the next three decades, according to researchers.

The findings, published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, put nearly three times as many people in coastal areas at risk from flooding than previously thought, and are the result of new advances in elevation modeling technology.

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And we leave you with a little good news, via Stephen Wolf at Daily Kos

On Monday, a bipartisan panel of state court judges delivered a monumental victory against the worst gerrymander in modern history when it blocked North Carolina from using its Republican-drawn congressional map in the 2020 elections, clearing the way for a fairer replacement that could see Democrats pick up three or more seats.