Thursday, July 4, 2024 #60

Since the Al Qaeda attack on the Twin Towers in Manhattan in 2001, the world seems to have shifted in so many different, yet similar ways. We are all more nervous, cautious, anxious, irritable, skeptical, tentative, distrusting and despairing.

And, it seems, that the more we engage, welcome, embrace, and tolerate these feelings, these very feelings have a tendency to feed on their emotional cousins or siblings. It is as if a new ‘mental greenhouse’ of doubt, anxiety and despair covers the nation into which opportunists jump to take advantage.

It is as if we have become a wounded shark of an American culture, and when others ‘smell blood’ they attack. There is a high degree of civility, sobriety, critical thought and sound judgement among the participants of the poplar television show, Shark Tank. Entrepreneurs who seek support, both financial and intellectual, from others who have made it their life work to succeed in business, present their ‘case’ for support and then engage in a conversation about the merits, holes and prospects of a joint agreement.

Outside, on the street, in the pubs, both the political vernacular and the legal judgements spewing from the supreme court (no capitals warranted), are venomous, vile and insubordinate in the extreme. We have all complained vigorously about the ‘cult’ of Republican party members that, like moths, have flocked in a death-spiral to the toxic light-bulb, trump. And we all watched the appointment of three sycophants, Gorsuch, Cavanaugh, and Coney Barrett to the court, without fully grasping the totality of their combined weight. As one American citizen put it, when I wondered out loud why anyone would agree to let his or her name go forward in a trump nomination to the court, “Well, doesn’t everybody want to do that?” I guess too many Americans are so smitten with the spectre, goal, promise, inheritance, legacy and status of an appointment to the supreme court that they will sell their soul to obtain it….and it if a life-long appointment.

On Monday, Canada Day (157th national birthday!), the U.S. supreme court handed down a decision in the presidential immunity case which, according to multiple observers from both political right and left, tragically and dramatically shifts the law, the constitutional interpretation and the political power onto an even more authoritarian executive in the Oval Office. The old adage that ‘no man is above the law’ no longer holds, in the United States of America. The decision starts to impact even cases in which the former president has been convicted on 34 counts of fraud in the hush-money case in New York. Today, Tuesday, July 2, 2024, his legal team is challenging the verdict in the light of the supreme court decision. The decision that presidents have absolute immunity for core official acts lies at the heart of their challenge.

Absolute immunity, however, as a precedent, especially given both the rhetoric and the former president’s actions while in office, jar even the most hopeful American and even the most attentive observer around the world. Following the court’s overturning of Roe v Wade, after nearly fifty years of established practice, if not legal or constitutional precedent, and the clear threat that other rights will fall under the cleaver of this trump-cult-court, and the members of the court openly defying normal expectations about both disclosing sizeable gifts, and refusing to recuse themselves in cases where they, to the lay person, have an unequivocal conflict of interest, the only publicly available model with which these premises seem to align is neither legal nor political in the strict sense of those words.

Emulating, or should we say, imitating, the immunity that seems to accompany only one office visible to the world, the papacy, gives a whole new meaning, tone, and purpose to the presidency. In all the verbiage that has flowed in ink and over the airwaves, the word ‘theocracy’ has not been uttered (Frank Figlusi uttered it  on July 3rd on MSNBC). And yet….

We have all watched the signing of a law in Alabama that requires the Ten Commandments to be posted in all public classrooms from kindergarten to university and colleges in that state. We have also watched, and wept, at the decision by the state superintendent of education in Oklahoma ordering public schools to teach the Bible and the Ten Commandments. On June 26, as reported in The Prospect, June 26, 2024, by Hassa Ali Kanu, The Supreme Court issued a ruling today that effectively legalizes bribery for state and local officials, so long as they receive the cash or gifts after taking the official act that the briber wants.

Furthermore, as reported by Wisconsin Public Radio, on July 2, 2024, last week the court’s conservative majority overturned a 40-year-old legal doctrine known as the ‘Chevron deference’ which stems from a 1984 ruling involving the energy firm. The 6-3 decision ended a legal precedent that allowed courts to defer to an agency’s reasonable reading of the law where it’s unclear. The ruling shifts power from regulatory agencies to the courts and Congress. Clean Wisconsin issued a statement on Friday calling the decision ‘a disaster for the environment.’ Evan Feinauer, the group’s staff attorney, told WPR the ruling makes it easier to toss out environmental regulations developed by the Biden administration to reduce pollution, replace lead pipes and set limits on PFAS in drinking water.

Cleary visible, from among the several ‘foot-prints’ in forest of both legal and political utterings, from trump, bannon, the highest court and the chorus of sycophants that form the ‘curia’ (the administrative institutions of the Holy See and the central body through which the affairs of the Roman Catholic church are conducted), that has been assembling out of the dark, now bursting into the light on Breitbart, Fox, Mar a Logo, is not merely an attitude, nor even a mere ‘deconstruction of the administrative state’ as bannon has been touting in debates everywhere he can find an audience. (One audience appeared for the Monk Debates at the University of Toronto.)

As reported on NPR as far back as 2017, (Steve Bannon Aligns with Vatican Hard-Lines who Oppose Pope Francis, by Sylvia Poggioli, February 8, 2017) bannon addressed a conference that was held inside the Vatican but was sponsored by a conservative Catholic group. Speaking via Skype, Bannon painted as almost apocalyptic vision of the state of the Western world. ‘We’re at the beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict, of which, if the people in this room, the people in the church, do not bind together and really form what I feel is an aspect of the church militant, to really be able not just stand with our beliefs, but to fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity that’s starting.’ A barbarity, Bannon added, that would completely eradicate ‘everything we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years,’ and which he clearly spelled out a few minutes later: ‘We are in an outright war against jihadist Islamic fascism. And this war is, I think, metastasizing far quicker than governments can handle it.’ That is language that Pope Francis has never used. The pope has repeatedly urged European countries to welcome migrants-who are, in the majority, Muslim- and he has championed the rights of the poor…..But that’s not Bannon’s worldview. While most of Breitbart reports on the pope have been neutral, headlines about the pope when Bannon was in charge included:

§  ‘Seven Ways Pope Francis Slapped Conservatives in the United States’

§  ‘A Vatican Expert: Pope Francis is a ‘friend of Islam’

§  “Pope Francis Slams Capitalism, Death Penalty, Immigration Law; No Real Mention of Abortion, Gay Marriage’

§  ‘Pope Francis Threatens Legacy of Pope John Paul II, Ronald Reagan’

While the hardliners in the Vatican may not have attained ascendancy under pope Francis, nevertheless, the bannon-hard-liners cabal are high on the Vatican radar.

Under the umbrella (cloud, storm, thunder, lightning, fire, insurrection, lies, deceptions, propaganda, distortions and intensity) of such a conspiracy, pitting the West (hypothetically) against the hordes of Muslim immigrants, refugees, and whatever spurious monikers trump throws at them, then camouflaged as a far-right, anti-establishment, white-supremacist, deconstructionist, inflamed band of ‘warriors’, even though the ‘MAGA’ movement may not have secured an endorsement of the Vatican, it has nevertheless, put on the ‘robes and trappings’ of absolute power.

‘Dictator for the first day’ along with the multiple accolades trump has showered on tyrants for years, (Putin Xi, Kim), the threats of retribution against enemies, the quotes from former administration members, (‘Can I shoot a protester in the leg?’ a trump question to Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, as reported in his biography), the highly inflamed rhetoric of the putative alpha male, (really a  mask to hide his own neurosis)…all of this drama, now extending almost a full decade since he slid down the escalator to announce his candidacy for the presidency, has reached a degree of fulfillment in the Supreme Court immunity decision.

Writing in The Guardian, Rachel Leingang, July 1, 2024, in a piece entitled ‘Sotomayor says immunity ruling makes a president ‘king above the law’…quoting Sotomayor:

‘Today’s decision to grant former Presidents criminal immunity reshapes the institution of the Presidency,’ Sotomayor wrote in dissent. ‘It makes a mockery of the principle, foundational to our Constitution and system of Government, that no man in above the law.’ Sotomayor, writing in a scathing tone, said the court would effectively allow presidents to commit clear crimes without punishment, an expansion of presidential powers that puts democracy at risk. She and fellow liberal justice Ketanji Brown Jacksons lay out hypothetical ways the court’s ruling could create crises in the US…..Orders the Navy’s Seal Tean 6 to assassinate a political rival? Immune. Organizes a military coup to hold onto power? Immune. Takes a bribe in exchange for a pardon? Immune. Immune. Immune. Immune. ‘Let the President violate the law, let him exploit the trappings of his office for personal gain, let him use his official power for evil ends. Because if he knew that he may one day face liability for breaking the law, he might not be as bold and fearless as we would like him to be. That is the majority’s message today…..In every use of official power, the President is now a kind above the law.’

From the National Catholic Register, in a piece entitled, “50 Biblical Indications of Petrine Primacy and the Papacy,” November 20, 2016, Dave Armstrong writes, after citing the scriptural references from Matthew 16:18: ‘And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church; and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.’ And Matthew 16:19: ‘I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven….’ The ‘power of the keys’ had to do with discipline and administrative authority with regard to the faith.’ And in Matthew 16:19b: ‘whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’ ‘Binding’ and ‘loosing’ were rabbinical terms meaning to ‘forbid’ and ‘permit’ with reference to the interpretation of the law, and secondarily to ‘condemn’ or ‘acquit’. Thus St. Peter was given the authority to determine the rules for doctrine and practice.

Given the United States’ rigorous, historically rooted concept of the separation of church and state, that principle has become ‘swiss cheese’ so full of holes that even legislatures and governors are driving their proverbial ‘trucks’ through those holes, with the complicity of the far-right republican ‘cabal’.

Nothing, not the established laws, nor institutional norms, nor balance of powers, nor the rule of law, nor the integrity of the vote, nor the former practice of bi-partisanship of former American leaders like Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan, who after seriously debating a matter of public interest, would happily and gregariously, and harmoniously share a drink, also in the public interest.

Indeed, the public interest, the glue that formerly held both the formal and informal guardrails intact, has dried and atrophied that it no longer ‘holds’.

Reverting to a Unitary Executive Theory of government, a theory that holds that Congress cannot limit the president’s control of the executive branch because the Constitution sets up a hierarchical system whereby the president has the most power, irrespective of the underlying ideologies, theologies, beliefs, and structural models from which it takes its name, is nevertheless a banana-peel-slide into the deformation and crippling of democracy, and the ascendancy of the people. And the prices the United States and the world will pay for this ‘slide’ will ensnare our grandchildren and their children for centuries… 


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