You have probably heard the pros and cons. Trump is crazy and could do irreparable harm, as in nuclear war. Pence is pure evil and will do irreparable harm, but probably won't engage us in nuclear war. We may be able to repair the harm Pence does to our civil liberties... or maybe not.
There is a strange show on Comedy Central that I just discovered called The President Show. The guy who plays Trump is just eerie, because he smiles. Trump does not smile. When he attempts to smile it is a grimace, a slash, as opposed to the sides of his mouth actually turning up.
|Note that the eyes also grimace.|
But the Mike Pence character, played by the funny and talented Peter Grosz, really nails it. In a sketch with three actual world-renowned ethicists, Pence "explores" what "ethics" actually is.
This is a brilliant sketch that ends with the Rev. Paul Raushenbush saying that he is most worried that Pence would be "better at being president than Donald Trump but with the exact same goals."
The three ethicists and Grosz play their parts in such a way that it sent chills through me.
It turns out, however, that the Trump/Pence philosophical debate has merely been the warm-up for the ethical dilemma that is the Age of Trump.
When Trump began to gripe about "Attorney General" Jefferson Sessions and his failure to support Trump in the Russia investigation by stunningly doing the right thing and recusing himself, a whole new can of worms turned up in the White House cafeteria. The bitching was so sharp-tongued that it seemed to leave no other option but for Sessions to resign. The reason resignation was so important is that, according to one interpretation of the law, only if he resigned could the president appoint a replacement.
Of course, we know Trump was pissed off because he has assumed a Sessions A.G. would refuse to prosecute Trump crimes in colluding with Russia to influence the election. And public pressure has been such that even the House of Representatives' convoluted attempts to block the investigation have thus far failed.
Coming up on summer recess, with increasing attacks by Trump on Sessions, it seemed that Sessions just couldn't stay. And if he left while Congress was not in session, Trump could assign a recess appointment, and it would be someone who would be more compliant, someone who would be more than willing to fire Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller at the president's behest.
The quandary with which we philosophers of democracy were suddenly faced was yet another reverse Sophie's choice. Would it be better to have the evil Jefferson Sessions quit and be replaced by someone who would no doubt derail the Russia investigation and leave Trump safely in the White House? Or would it be better to leave Sessions in his powerful position at DOJ so that Mueller's investigation can safely proceed?
Turns out that a tantrumming Trump is no match for Jefferson Beauregard Sessions. He has been waiting for the opportunity to wield this much power all his life. And while we are all distracted by the other horrors of this administration, as well as the cascade of purely stupid presidential tweets, Sessions has indeed gone about his business of destroying our rights and freedoms, with relish.
Sessions learned a lot growing up alongside the KKK. Whereas they wore sheets and committed their hateful acts in the dark, Sessions moves quietly in daylight. He denies his bigotry while devising his schemes to harm people of color. In his relatively short time at the DOJ, Sessions has worked feverishly -- but again, quietly -- to knock down hard-won pillars of freedom. It turns out that, like Forrest Gump, Sessions has found his way into the most important halls of history, where he can do his dirty deeds with impunity.
Since he received his loyalty award from Trump, he has begun to go after states that have legalized marijuana. This defender of states' rights -- "except when he doesn't" -- is going after sanctuary cities which seek to protect undocumented immigrants who live and work peaceably in their communities. He is attempting to overturn protections against civil asset forfeiture, the seizure of property prior to criminal conviction. He is now placing the federal government front and center in the war against affirmative action. Of course, he has a different take on states' rights where minority rights are being attacked: he decries federal involvement in cases of possible police abuse, voting rights, and LGBT rights. And he is demanding data on visitors to an anti-Trump website, an attack on our right to privacy that we must not ignore.
This insult to the Keebler elf never sleeps.
But would we rather have him leave and pave the way for Trump to derail the investigation that could prove the way to his impeachment?
So many of us have given over sleepless nights to the bad choices we have. I have decided that we have to trust the rules of law, and our ethical and moral compass.
In the case of Trump/Pence, it can't be a matter of who will do the more harm. If we allow Trump to continue to control the government because we fear Pence, we are rejecting the protections that were built into our democracy. We need to rid ourselves of the rot that is currently corrupting the presidency. And then we need to battle the evils that Pence will attempt to enact.
More difficult is the question of Sessions, because he has no plans to leave, and he is fortunate enough to be able to go about his dirty deeds while Trump is tossing his feces around Washington and the nation. At this point we can philosophize and debate, but there isn't much we -- meaning moral Americans -- can do.
But as with Trump/Pence, we can't excuse evil because it may be the lesser evil. Sessions is daily corroding the rights and freedoms of Americans, happily going after minority rights, but also his pet right-wing peeves, and possibly most serious, our right to privacy. I have to believe that Trump's crimes are so bad that there is no way out for him, whether he is able to figure out a way to rid himself of Mueller or not. Meanwhile, we must be aware of the evil that is being enacted by the "Department of Justice," and we must, we must, speak out.
And lest we forget whose side the majority in Congress is on:
It was encouraging that before the recess, republicans worked on a bill that would prevent Trump from making a recess appointment that would potentially replace the AG with someone who would fire Special Prosecutor Mueller. But their concern masked their loyalty to their former colleague. The abhorrent acts that Jefferson Sessions is undertaking fall right in line with the goals of the republican Congress. Restrictions to civil rights, enhanced police powers, curtailing privacy and freedom, they all come under the goals of the right wing. They are delighted that Sessions is in the DOJ fighting for them. So the bills put forward to prevent a potential recess appointment was more about loyalty to their own than protecting the Russia investigation. And the fact that they seemed to be finally willing to fight to find out the truth about the election was just pure gravy.