Presumption of Regularity

Jonah Goldberg’s Remnant podcast (Episode 146. I cannot find a direct link except to this download file) recently hosted Adam White of the American Enterprise Institute on a sort of “Impeachment 101” episode.

Some attention was given, of course, to the White House transcript of the infamous Ukraine phone conversation (which did have a quid pro quo, just for the record) and specifically to the deeply corrupt and impeachable request that Ukraine interfere in the 2020 Election by digging up dirt on Joe Biden. I am not going to digress to defend “quid pro quo” or “impeachable.” Listen to the whole podcast if you want to hear them defended.

Less remarked than the effort to involve Ukraine in smearing Biden was a reflection of Trump’s bat-guano crazy theory that the DNC mail server is in Kiev. That apparently is an actual extant delusion of the rightmost fringe, so of course our very stable genius is totally into it — enough so to debase his office by asking about it on a diplomatic call.

Then there was the booing at the World Series game 5, which some thought demeaned “the office of the Presidency.” That is not an argument that I find unsympathetic normally, but something is so abnormal about the present moment that it seems disingenuous.

White nails the present abnormality (interjections and “throat-clearing” omitted):

Goldberg: People are slipping Trump garbage from like GatewayPundit and Breitbart. The reason why the President of the United States said it was okay to betray the Kurds because they weren’t at Normandy — that came from like a Kurt Schlichter column.

White: … One thing about the President and this quid pro quo — I do think we need to step back and remind people: all this — … things that for a normal President would be kind of pushing the boundaries — President Trump doesn’t get that benefit of the doubt because of “Lock her up!” Right? He made this part of his campaign that he was going to go after, he was going to threaten his political enemies. And all his fans sort of rose up and loved that line, and they liked the President because he was so outside the box.

The problem is all the conventions of deference that we afford Presidents and the space we give them to use their Presidential power — it’s all contingent on our vision of what a normal President is, and what lawyers sometimes call “the presumption of regularity.” President Trump having smashed that box on his way into the office — he and his supporters can’t really be offended now when the rest of the system doesn’t treat him like a normal President, doesn’t give him those benefits of the doubt.

That’s why we need conventional statesmen in office so that we can trust them that, if they misspeak when they’re talking to Ukraine and they actually are interested in corruption or some far-fetched theory that they just want to ask about — that we can kind of step back and trust that this isn’t the President just wielding these powers to punish his enemies.

The President gave all that up before he was even in office ….

When I refresh my memory on the presumption of regularity, I’m struck by its power in explaining good people’s distrust of Trump. Frankly, I’d distrust him apart from “Lock her up!” because he’s a multi-adulterous, multi-bankrupt, sociopathic and punitive liar, New York real estate developer, Casino operator, pro wrestling promoter and reality TV figure.* But White and Goldberg don’t mention those.

Whether you’re sanely left or sanely right, you likely would enjoy and profit from the whole podcast episode, which agreed with me on some key points (of course we told the Russians we were going in after Abu Bakr al-Baghadi; we didn’t want them shooting down our helicopters) and enlightened me on others (there’s no requirement or even a well-established expectation that an Administration tell Congress about an imminent counter-terrorism operation). On the other hand, many of the pro-Trump talking points are rubbish, as they also note.

Crazy partisans likely wouldn’t enjoy the podcast. And sane people might have higher (in several senses) priorities than wallowing even more than necessary in impeachment news. Let your conscience be your guide, knowing that the podcast won’t agitate you with demagoguery.

* UPDATE: Also a Birther. How could I have forgotten Birtherism?

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The Lord is King, be the peoples never so impatient; He that sitteth upon the Cherubim, be the earth never so unquiet.

(Psalm 98:1, Adapted from the Miles Coverdale Translation, from A Psalter for Prayer)

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