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“There are three ways in which we may rule,” said Charles Aycock, then the soon-to-be governor of North Carolina, to his supporters in 1900. “By force, by fraud or by law. We have ruled by force; we can rule by fraud; but we want to rule by law.”

Aycock was rallying his fellow white supremacists not only for his own election, but also to pass a state constitutional amendment that would, in effect, disenfranchise most black voters. By modern standards, this was a startlingly revelatory admission: Whites were willing to govern under the rule of law, Aycock was saying, but only if they could dictate its terms. But they were also willing to use force or fraud to dictate those terms.

Indeed, white supremacists had used recently used force to accomplish that goal, during the November 1898 Wilmington coup, overthrowing a municipal government deemed too friendly to African Americans and murdering at least 60 black men. They used fraud, too: Aycock and the so-called Suffrage Amendment both prevailed that November by a roughly 60–40 spread—according to the unlikely tallies of Democratic clerks.

For the next 70 years, having cheated and bullied their way to absolutely power, white supremacists got to write the laws.

I thought of Aycock’s quote—captured in David Zucchino’s forthcoming book, Wilmington’s Lie—and the sense of entitlement behind it, when I read the letter the White House dispatched to the House of Representatives last week, calling the impeachment proceedings illegitimate and saying the administration wouldn’t participate.

“You have designed and implemented your inquiry in a manner that violates fundamental fairness and Constitutionally mandated due process,” White House counsel Pat Cipollone told House leaders on Oct. 8. Since the White House judged the case against Trump “baseless,” the president “cannot participate in your partisan and unconstitutional inquiry.”

From a legal perspective, Cipollone’s letter is patently absurd. Impeachment is spelled out in the Constitution; it, by definition, cannot be unconstitutional. The administration can’t simply declare the president innocent and therefore ignore congressional subpoenas. As Gregg Nunziata, the former chief counsel for Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans, put it, the letter was a “barely lawyered temper tantrum” and a “middle finger to Congress.”

It was the latest in a string of them.

That same day, Trump’s Department of Justice was in federal court arguing that the courts had erred four decades ago by allowing Congress to review transcripts of Watergate grand-jury proceedings. The House Judiciary Committee now wants to review Robert Mueller’s grand jury materials, and—for some unfathomable reason—the DOJ is desperate to stop that from happening.

Also that day, the State Department ordered Gordon Sondland—the U.S. ambassador to the European Union and now a key player in the Ukraine scandal, who also owns Provenance Hotels, which includes Palm Springs’ Villa Royale—not to appear for a scheduled congressional deposition. Text messages between Sondland and former special envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker released by Congress appear to show that the administration was withholding military aid from Ukraine unless the country indulged Trump’s conspiracy theories about Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election and reopened an investigation into Joe Biden’s son—except for one, in September, in which Sondland assured the head of the embassy in Kiev that he was “incorrect about President Trump’s intentions” and that there was “no quid pro quo.”

Sondland was awarded the ambassadorship after giving Trump’s inauguration committee $1 million; his appointment was championed by U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, to whom he gave $17,900, and his wife gave $57,900, according to Open Secrets.

In addition, Rudy Giuliani announced that he would disregard a House subpoena for documents and dared Congress told hold him in contempt.

It didn’t take long for dominoes to begin falling. Two of Giuliani’s henchmen were arrested boarding one-way flights out of the country, accused of routing hundreds of thousands of Russian dollars into Republican political campaigns in an effort to, among other things, oust the American ambassador to Ukraine—which Trump did. Giuliani himself is said to be under investigation.

Meanwhile, Sondland is testifying over the State Department’s objections, and The Washington Post reported that he plans to say that Trump dictated his “no quid pro quo” message to the Ukrainian embassy. And according to The Wall Street Journal, in August, Sondland had told U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin that Ukrainian aid was directly tied to these investigations.

The White House knows the direction in which this is going. The only recourse is to paint the exercise as illegitimate—to assert, as Richard Nixon did, that “when the president does it, that means it’s not illegal”—and to hope the president’s supporters, cheered on by the president’s propaganda machine, choose not to care.

Charles Aycock was a white supremacist, but that’s not the thing that most tightly binds him to Donald Trump. Instead, it’s the authoritarian sense that that the rule of law exists to further their interests and can be ignored when it restrains them.

By force, by fraud or by law.

Contact Jeffrey C. Billman at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in National/International

On this week's fresh-and-fruity weekly Independent comics page: Red Meat chronicles Earl's new job at the DMV; Apoca Clips listens in as Don Jr. and Eric discuss Hunter Biden's alleged misdeeds; The K Chronicles gets wistful about the joys of being young; This Modern World ponders some extremely good-faith arguments against impeachment; and Jen Sorensen offers a tribute, of sorts, to the right-wing punk.

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On this week's subpoena-defying weekly Independent comics page: Jen Sorensen examines the fear of a female wonk; (Th)ink watches as Trump is backed into a corner; This Modern World listens in as the mob boss talks to his associates; Red Meat breaks up a cat fight; and Apoca Clips listens in as Li'l Trumpy picks OJ's brain.

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On this week's whistle-blown weekly Independent comics page: Jen Sorensen examines what finally led to the impeachment inquiry; (Th)ink has the final word on Sharpiegate; This Modern World ponders the reputation rehabilitation of former Trump administration officials; Red Meat discovers the scam behind all-you-can-eat buffets; and Apoca Clips allows Li'l Trumpy to speak out about that now-infamous call to Ukraine.

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Editor’s Note: Informed Dissent is a column, by alternative newsmedia veteran Jeffrey C. Billman, that explores the age of Trump, mixing political and historical insights with biting, unapologetic commentary. It will appear a couple of times per month at CVIndependent.com.

By my count, Robert Mueller’s testimony before the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees last Wednesday, July 24, produced six significant headlines.

He confirmed that he had not exonerated President Trump. He said that Trump asked his staff to falsify records. He suggested there were “currently” FBI investigations into whether people in Trump’s orbit were compromised. He agreed that Trump’s written answers to his questions were not “always truthful.” He admitted (more or less) that Trump had met the three elements of obstruction of justice. And, though he tried to walk it back, he let it slip that, had Department of Justice policy not prohibited him from doing so, he would have indicted Donald Trump.

But this being Washington, D.C., those six headlines were muddled in the kind of second-rate political theater only Congress can deliver: backbenchers desperate for a moment in the spotlight; Democrats eager for the kill; Republicans slobbering for the president’s affection; and, most significantly, a halting, underwhelming and reluctant star witness.

The Beltway media mainly judged it on those terms—the spectacle. For a prime example of the genre, see NBC’s Chuck Todd, who offered this trenchant analysis on Twitter: “On substance, Democrats got what they wanted: that Mueller didn’t charge Pres. Trump because of the (DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel) guidance, that he could be indicted after he leaves office, among other things. But on optics, this was a disaster.”

It says a lot about this moment—about the failures of the media, about the perils of polarization, about the frailty of our democratic norms—that a special counsel could tell Congress under oath that the president had committed crimes, but, because of the 74-year-old’s lack of verve, this is considered a win for the president. But it also speaks to how thoroughly Democrats have botched this whole affair.

This spectacle, after all, was unnecessary. Mueller had already said what he needed to say. He’d laid out a report—448 pages—that all but begged Congress to do what he could not: Hold Donald Trump accountable.

After the Mueller report became public, House Democrats should have started impeachment hearings, even though there was no chance the Senate would convict Trump, and even though such a course could prove politically treacherous. It was their constitutional obligation.

They’ve obviously not done so. Speaker Nancy Pelosi—though she talks of “crimes that were committed against our Constitution” and Trump’s “existential threat to our democracy”—wants to go slow, waiting until they have the “strongest possible hand.” She’s deemed impeachment too risky, especially for her caucus’ freshmen, many of whom come from moderate suburban districts. She’s also worried that voters don’t understand how impeachment works, and that the base will ultimately be disappointed when the Senate shrugs aside the House’s indictment, and Trump declares vindication.

These aren’t unreasonable arguments. But they miss the point.

It’s the same point missed by those who caution against focusing on Trump’s racism. Talking about his attacks on U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, or his border concentration camps, or his embrace of white nationalists, they say, could detract from “kitchen table” issues that matter to voters—health care, the environment, education, jobs.

To the degree it matters, Democrats should, of course, offer an agenda. But the dirty secret of American elections is that big policy proposals don’t matter all that much. In our polarized electorate, people are more motivated to vote against the other side than for their own. The 2018 blue wave, for instance, didn’t happen because suburbanites fell in love with Democrats’ plans; rather, they were fed up with Trump’s antics, pissed off that the GOP tried to gut the Affordable Care Act, and desiring some adult supervision in Washington.

Another thing: If you’re closely attuned to policy decisions, you probably see an administration that stumbles between dangerously inept and actively malevolent on most issues. If you’re not, however—and most people aren’t—you see an economy doing pretty well. And for any other president, absent a recession in the next year, that would probably be enough to win re-election.

But Donald Trump isn’t any other president. He’s not a normal president. And treating him like one could prove self-defeating.

Consider this: On the one hand, Democrats are telling Americans that Trump is, in Pelosi’s words, an “existential threat to our democracy”—a corrupt, racist liar who has obstructed justice, violated campaign finance laws and welcomed foreign interference into elections. He’s defying congressional subpoenas. And he might be a sexual predator.

On the other hand, they’re not going to do anything about it—at least not yet. Eventually, perhaps.

How does that not signal that this is all a game? This is the worst kind of mixed messaging, the kind that muddies any sense of moral clarity. And it’s the kind that could give Trump a second term.

Of course, Donald Trump shouldn’t be impeached because it’s good politics. Donald Trump should be impeached because he is uniquely unfit to be president; because he’s a criminal; because impeaching him is the right thing to do.

If Trump truly poses a threat to our democracy, should we be talking about anything else?

Contact Jeffrey C. Billman at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in National/International

On this week's recyclable, gluten-free weekly Independent comics page: (Th)ink hands the ink over to guest cartoonist John Bolton; This Modern World looks at the fallout when Republicans all become brain-eating zombies; Jen Sorenson feels bad for old rich people who can't sell their homes; Red Meat is bummed out because Earl lost his job; and Apoca Clips listens to Sarah Huckabee Sanders' farewell press conference.

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On this week's environmentally friendly weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World listens in as two Republicans discuss abortion laws; Jen Sorensen shares her hopes regarding Joe Biden; (Th)ink looks at a Re-Public-an transit map; Red Meat gets excited about a hot date; and Apoca Clips asks Li'l Trumpy what he thinks about the first Republican congressman to call for impeachment.

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On this week's unimpeachable weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World masterfully compares a presidency of old to our current situation; Jen Sorenson wonders why members of the media treat democracy as partisan; The K Chronicles gets felt up on an airplane; Red Meat forgets the safe word; and Apoca Clips compares Campaign Donald and President Donald.

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