Friday, June 9, 2017


Rome wasn't built in a day. Nor was it destroyed in a day. But make no mistake, it wasn't the barbarians who undid the empire. Rome rotted from within. And so it is with the American Empire.

I'm bringing the Roman reference up because earlier this morning I did another political segment for KGET 17 News' Sunrise edition (we did one yesterday morning too). Republican Cathy Abernathy and I were invited on to discuss the developments surrounding former FBI director James Comey's testimony in Washington. One thing's abundantly clear: as Comey's dismissal illustrates, the Republican Party is ready to undermine the institutional framework of American democracy in order to protect their hold on power.

Like the special and selfish interests that ate away at Rome's political integrity, we see a band of self-serving interests eating away at the institutional and constitutional integrity of America.

I'm not so sure that these interests care about protecting President Donald Trump as much as they are about maintaining power, but they are Trump's Praetorian guards today.

The GOP's defense of the American Caligula, for the moment, rests effectively on two tactics.

The first, if we're to believe what Reps. Paul Ryan and Kevin McCarthy said yesterday, is that Donald Trump is a novice in Washington. Because Trump's so "new" to the rough and tumble of Washington we need to give him a pass for breaking institutional protocols, which includes Trump using the CEO position of the "bully pulpit" to pressure or threaten those in other branches of government to do his bidding.

Never mind that "naive" Donald Trump was a CEO who supposedly came from the rough private sector, and regularly stiffed - and continues to stiff - contractors that do business with him.

Never mind that "naive" Donald Trump aggressively uses an army of tax attorneys and the bankruptcy laws of this nation to avoid paying taxes and to keep money he did not earn.

Never mind that "naive" Donald Trump was supposed to be such a great president precisely because he had been pressured and asked for money so often by other politicians that he knows the game better than anyone else.

In Ryan and McCarthy's eyes, Donald Trump is so naive he's just a babe in woods. Who can blame him for not understanding the separation of powers; a concept that's taught in the 8th grade. We should just give Trump a pass for asking FBI Director James Comey to back off on the Russian investigation because of his political innocence.

The second tactic, as Cathy Abernathy made so abundantly clear in this morning's discussion, is to go after James Comey's character, while trying to paint him as part of some evil Liberal-Democratic Party conspiracy. The GOP is using this diversionary tactic because they don't want to discuss Russia's interference in our elections, or Trump's obstruction of justice.

Better to focus on moving a personality driven media, than focus on treason and law breaking. If that means dragging James Comey and the FBI through the mud - which disparages our judicial and legal infrastructure too - that's a price the GOP is willing to pay to keep their hold on power.

Never mind that the Founding Fathers established the separation of powers principle (which every 8th grader learns) precisely to avoid a concentration of power in the hands of one man, or power concentrated with a single "faction" (what we call "party's" or "interest groups" today).

Never mind that there's a difference between the "leaks" used by political hacks to establish a story line, the "preservation of evidence" by law enforcement (Comey's memos), and Comey's "whistle blowing" (making sure we know about a Russian attack on our electoral system, and obstruction of justice by the President fall under whistle blower laws).

Never mind that the FBI, like other security and intelligence agencies, are charged with protecting America and the Constitution from "enemies, both foreign and domestic."

In the eyes of the modern Republican Party, upholding our separation of powers principle, respecting the preservation of evidence by the director of the FBI, and protecting us from enemies - both foreign and domestic - are not a priority. Simply put, they know adhering to constitutional principles, acknowledging criminal evidence, and following the Russian trail will undermine their hold on power.

This explains why presenting Donald Trump as a political novice, while painting James Comey and the FBI as incompetent political hacks, are the GOP's primary goals. These tactics might also work against the constitutional integrity of the nation but, for the Republicans, who cares? Their guy stays in power.

The Founding Fathers were very familiar with the history of Rome, and the political philosophy of Montesquieu, whose writing on checks and balances made their way into our Constitution. They were also quite familiar with the corruption that emerged within Rome's Praetorian Guard, the reasons for Rome's endless intrigue (Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, et al.), and the reasons for the demise of enlightened government in Rome, and it's collapse.

It was a slow motion bleed.

It's also why The Framers put so much faith in institutional checks, rather than with strong individuals, or powerful groups (families, wealthy elites, religious groups, etc.). They understood how vile and self-serving tyrants like Donald Trump would pop up from time to time. They also understood how small groups - like our modern GOP - could be corrupted by concentrated power.

Hold on to your hats, folks. Rome wasn't built in a day. Nor was it destroyed in a day. We can still turn this around.

But I wouldn't bet on today's Republican Party being part of saving our Republic. At the moment, they're busy acting as Donald Trump's Praetorian Guard. This means they're also the visible rot within the American Empire.

My sincere hope is that the institutional game now playing out between the executive and the judicial-legal branch ends with Donald Trump leaving the White House, before his term ends.

Believe it or not, it's actually what The Framers intended.

- Mark

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