Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Republican’s Failure to Convict President Trump will Haunt the Party

“Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can't practice any other virtue consistently.”
-Maya Angelou


The Republican Party had a choice to make and I hoped the party that abolished slavery and enabled the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, overriding a Democrat filibuster, would again rise to the occasion and do the right thing for their country.

Even though I support the Democratic party, I am one of their harshest critics. In fact, I have been critical of the way the Democrats behaved during the most of Trump years and said on numerous occasions that their constant hysteria and crying wolf were detrimental to winning over a majority of voters.

It was wrong for Democrats to publicly call for the President's head, days after he won the 2016 election. Democrats were misguided in the amount of time and taxpayer money they wasted on investigating every aspect of the President’s public and private life in a bid to remove him from office through any means possible.

Also, I did not agree with the Democrat’s first impeachment of President Trump, for his call with the Ukrainian President. On the call Mr. Trump clumsily tried to pressure President Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden’s son. What Mr. Trump did was wrong and reprehensible, but did not rise to the level of impeachment. President Zelensky himself stated that he never felt pressure from Mr. Trump, or his administration, to investigate Hunter Biden. Further, the absence of any evidence pointing to a broader conspiracy or direct orders from the President to members of his administration, is the reason Democrats failed to convince a majority of voters. 

Impeachment should not be used frivolously or as a tool for political vengeance. In this instance a whistleblower had come forward to alert Congress of the President’s inappropriate behaviour. So, one can argue that the checks and balances worked, making a partisan impeachment, unnecessary. It is also fair to ask that if the media and elected leaders had not been so fully consumed and distracted by the impeachment trial last January, would we have paid more attention to the coronavirus pandemic that was just starting?

In Trump’s defense, conservatives argue that the mainstream media has shown an open bias and complete lack of objectivity when covering Mr. Trump and his administration. A Harvard study concluded that the media set “a new standard for unfavorable press coverage of a president.”

Another double standard that is cited by conservatives is the fact that the media does not devote the same time and attention calling out Democrats like Rep. Maxine Waters, who urged people to seek out and harass Trump staffers. Or liberal protestors who menacingly confronted Republican lawmakers that voted to confirm Justice Kavanaugh. They also point out that there was no outcry when Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer publicly threatened Justices Gorsuch and Kavanagh over their views on abortion. Republican Senator Ben Sasse summed up this double standard saying; “Think about it: "If a Republican threatened Justice Sotomayor or Justice Ginsburg, it would be the biggest story not just in Washington but all across America.” 

To be clear, I am not defending Mr. Trump and have always said that he is a reprehensible conman and unprincipled charlatan. The point is that finding a president distasteful and his views vile does not mean we get to hold him to a different standard. We must never have a set of standards for people we like, and a different one for those we disdain. The health of our democracy relies on a doctrine of fairness and equal treatment for all.

Just as I will call out the mainstream media for their lack of fairness and Democrats for bad behavior, I refuse to absolve Mr. Trump’s reckless abdication of duty, leading up to and after the election. The facts in this case are strong.

For months Mr. Trump made it clear that he would refuse to accept the election results if he lost. As early as June last year he claimed that the election was going to be rigged and he tweeted: “RIGGED 2020 ELECTION: MILLIONS OF MAIL-IN BALLOTS WILL BE PRINTED BY FOREIGN COUNTRIES, AND OTHERS. IT WILL BE THE SCANDAL OF OUR TIMES!” and proceeded to use the word “rigged” more than 75 times in tweets between May and October. Based on this evidence alone it is hard to refute that the president was clearly laying the groundwork for his lies in the event that he lost the election.

After it became clear that he had lost, the President was within his rights to legally challenge the election results. In 2000, Mr. Gore refused to concede to Mr. Bush until December 13, after there had been a full recounting of votes in Florida and after weeks of legal battles.

Trump’s lawyers filed a record 62 lawsuits contesting the results, of which 61 were dismissed. Their lawsuits were thrown out for lack of evidence because Trump’s team based their allegations on a single person's account and offered no corroborating evidence. In other instances suits were dismissed for ‘lack of standing’. These dismissals were universal and came from 86 different judges, both Democratic and Republican-appointed, and included scathing rebukes from at least nine federal judges appointed by Trump.

Whether you agree with Mr. Trump’s legal challenges or think them frivolous, we cannot deny the president due process. However, what the former president does not have the right to do, and it amounts to abuse of office and dereliction of duty, is to perpetuate lies about the election being stolen and claiming widespread voter fraud, without offering a shred of evidence.

Trump and his legal team also spent weeks making false statements and spreading conspiracy theories on various media channels and in press briefings. The president’s statements were clearly designed to inflame passions. He repeatedly called on supporters to fight and refuse to give up. Not only did he urge them to “fight” but even told them when and where to show up, tweeting on December 19: “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th,” “Be there, will be wild!

The president cannot feign ignorance about the consequences of his rhetoric prior to the Capital riots. Leading up to January 6, there had been instances of armed protestors surrounding the homes of elected officials. Georgia’s Secretary of State, a Republican, received death threats, with people texting him saying that he deserved to face a firing squad. Numerous Republican officials also warned Mr. Trump that his rhetoric was dangerous and would lead to real violence, but he chose to ignore them and continued to fan the flames.

Not only did president Trump refuse to tone down his rhetoric but he proceeded to violate federal and state election laws by attempting to pressure Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s Secretary of State, begging him to overturn the election results by finding him 11,870 votes.

Democratic impeachment managers did a good job making their case but one thing I didn’t agree with is that the evidence showed that president Trump directly incited a ransacking of the Capitol. He did however, direct an angry mob to march towards the Capitol building and encouraged them to put pressure on the Senate and the Vice President to overturn the election results.

Trump’s subsequent silence and refusal to take action after the assault was underway, and it was clear that lives were in danger, showed that he was willing to let the violence continue in a bid to up the ante. We know that desperate calls from lawmakers in his own party, urging the president to call off his supporters, fell on deaf ears. At one point, Mr. Trump told House minority leader Kevin McCarthy that rioters seemed more upset about the election than he was. Hours later, when he reluctantly issued a public statement, after being forced by advisors and family members, he still ended the day with a tweet praising the rioters and sending them love.

Some years ago, I explained why the party of Lincoln had come to reside in Donald Trump’s trousers. When the party started to welcome conspiracy theorists and extremists into their ranks, with the naïve belief they could control these forces, they began a process that lead to a hostile takeover by Mr. Trump and now by acquitting him they have sealed the fate of the Grand Old Party.

However, we must not forget the ten Republican congresswomen and men who voted to impeach despite grave personal and political risk. They have been censured by their party and are getting death threats. Seven Republican Senators also followed their conscience and put country before party. No Democrats have ever voted to convict a president from their own party.

So, while this may feel like a victory for president Trump it is not, because seventeen brave women and men made it clear that Mr. Trump no longer has an absolute hold on their party.

 

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Tweets, Teens and the Fragile Indian Union

Activists burn an effigy depicting Greta Thunberg in Delhi. Photo: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

“Where you see wrong or inequality or injustice, speak out, because this is your country. This is your democracy. Make it. Protect it. Pass it on.”
-Thurgood Marshall

American pop singer Rihanna sent out a perfectly innocuous tweet on 2nd February asking “Why aren’t we talking about this?! referring to the Indian farmer protests that have been ongoing since November last year. Rihanna’s tweet was followed by one from Greta Thunberg, the teenage climate activist, saying “We stand in solidarity with the #FarmersProtest in India” and she attached a toolkit (not created by her) with actions people can take to support the farmers.

What came next might make people think that India had suffered a foreign-state-sponsored disinformation campaign or that the country was infiltrated by terrorists linked to Pakistan. 

Amit Shah, the Home Minister tweeted that “No propaganda can deter India’s unity! No propaganda can stop India to attain new heights!” This was followed by a tweet storm from prominent Bollywood celebrities like Akshay Kumar Suniel Shetty and Ajay Devgn and famous cricketers like Sachin Tendulkar and Ravi Shastri.

Interestingly, all their tweets were closely worded and echoed the government’s official line about protecting India’s sovereignty and not letting “external forces” interfere with internal matters. One would be forgiven for thinking that they mindlessly followed a script; even using the hashtags, #IndiaTogether and #IndiaAgainstPropaganda, being promoted by the government. 

As if on cue, and without any evidence, BJP leaders took to the airwaves and began inflaming passions by claiming that the toolkit was “evidence of international plans for attacks against India”. Promptly, a police case was filed against Thunberg’s tweet and an investigation launched into determining the origins of the toolkit. The threat to India’s sovereignty was considered so grave and the danger so palpable, by these two female masterminds, that grown men decided to take to the streets and burn effigies of Rihanna and Greta Thunberg.

The government’s Ministry of Internal Affairs demanded that Twitter block the accounts of anyone supporting farmers, or criticizing Mr. Modi; including suspending accounts of prominent activists and journalists. Twitter initially complied with the request, but later relented after widespread outrage from Indian citizens and some international pressure.

It is clear Mr. Modi is ratted and his government is scared because their only answer seems to be to shut down the internet, quash free speech and muzzle the press. They have been charging journalists who cover the farmer protests, with draconian Colonial era sedition charges. Now they are threatening to punish Twitter employees with fines and seven years in jail for restoring Twitter accounts. It seems the media manipulator and social media master, Mr. Modi, does not take kindly to being bested by a Swedish teen. I guess there is not much point in Mr. Modi having a 56-inch chest because he clearly lacks a spine.

This whole episode also begs the question about where our celebrities’ priorities lie because I don’t recall this fear for India’s unity when the ruling party, which has a majority in both houses, passed the farm reform bill by circumventing electronic voting. They pushed the bill through with brute force with an unreliable and undemocratic voice vote.

Nor did these celebrities express their righteous anger when the opposition parties of Congress, Aam Aadmi Party, Trinamool Congress, and DMK said they were not allowed to debate the bill and had their mics muted. Nor do I recall any of these noble Indians being concerned about our freedoms being eroded when the media reported that the government also suspended the audio on the Rajya Sabha TV broadcast during the passage of this contentious bill.

Seventy-three years after Independence, if India’s unity is so desperately fragile that a Swedish teen and American popstar can upend it with two tweets, then we should just admit defeat with this experiment in self-rule. Mr. Modi and his government should pack their bags, call the Queen to invoke the British Empire’s return policy and hand India back to them. Given the mess the UK is in after Brexit, I expect they will jump at the chance to regain the Jewel in their Crown. 

India is the world’s largest and most culturally rich and diverse democracy on earth. We should be a beacon of freedom and a guiding light for the world, but under Mr. Modi we are behaving more like the de facto dictatorships of China, Russia and Iran, whose leaders feign democratic principles but curtail free speech and quash public debate and all criticism of government by restricting internet access and imprisoning journalists.

In 2020 alone Modi’s government shut down the internet over 75 times – more than any other country in the world. Beyond curtailing free speech, this desperate action by our government also hurts us from an economic perspective. India’s shutdowns are estimated to cost the economy $2.8 billion a year. Not exactly a great example for a country that wants to be a global economic power and for a Prime Minster who has championed an initiative called Digital India.