The whole notion of discussing an issue is an idea that eludes Donald Trump, and that served him very well during the campaign, where he reduced his opponents to discrediting adjectives, and pronounced policies that were more sentiments than plans to be carried out. Yes, he would build a wall and the Mexicans would pay for it, but that was just a way to express his disdain for illegal immigrants rather than the glimmerings of an actionable plan. Hillary couldn’t get him to engage on issues because those are objective matters about which you might draw up better or worse plans, and so she instead, perhaps on the basis of her focus groups, decided to point out the flaws in his character, but those arguments did not have much impact on the voters she needed however convincing they were to the voters in the coastal states that she easily won.
Chuck Schumer thought that he could finally get going a discussion of issues through the confirmation process. You couldn’t corner the President elect on racial issues or Russian policy because all Trump said was wouldn’t it be better to have good rather than poor relations with russia, and certainly it would, but that tweet begged the question of whether it didn’t take both sides to make for better relations, not just us accepting Putin’s “right” to hack our elections. But Sessions could be confronted on what he would do about the civil rights division of the Justice Department and Tillerson might answer questions about how he intended to handle Russia. Forget the President as just not someone to engage in discussion because the process of give and take depends on using evidence to support a position a third party might consider valid when Trump does not rise to that level of mental discipline.
Schumer’s plan is to normalize the Trump Presidency, which is to make it like other Presidencies in that it is a give a take between political views, this time though with Cabinet officers rather than the President himself held responsible for the annunciation of official policy. The first day of confirmation hearings, yesterday, did not auger well in that direction for two reasons. First of all, Jeff Sessions simply retreated into confirmation mode and so said nothing objectionable. He said that Roe v. Wade was settled law, and he would not undermine it, while not commenting on what he would do to narrow its scope or what he would do about the Texas and other state attacks on it. He objectified the issue of voting rights by saying that the North Carolina case concerning voter suppression was working its way through the courts and that would settle that. He made it seem that being Attorney General had nothing to do with policy but was a mechanical job of enforcing the law and so required no policy input. He came across as a traditional and therefore non-Trumpian Conservative: circumspect and looking at a question from all angles. Senator Franken sounded lame when he challenged Sessions on whether signing off on the work of those who worked for him meant that he supported them in their civil rights enforcement cases.
But the day was full of other events that challenged the idea that it was possible to normalize the Trump Presidency. The networks and the Times reported that Trump, Obama, and the Congressional intelligence leaders had been briefed on a report, one apparently circulating around Washington for months, that Trump had participated in sex orgies in Moscow that had been filmed and that he had been offered deals that amounted to bribes and that he had received part of the Russian dossier on Hillary Clinton. It apparently never occurred to the slow witted Trump that Moscow was not a good place to have an orgy. Putin, the old KGB guy, offered him a honey pot. This information, if true, goes far to explain why Trump, the supposed great negotiator, has not sounded tougher about future dealings with the Russians. One also wonders why the media could not have managed to vet this story in some way that would have allowed them to get it out before the election, when it might have made a difference. Hillary has a right to think that the media along with Comey cost her the election, the press preoccupied with the private server story that had no substance from beginning to end. But never mind. What the story shows is that there is not enough that is normal about this Presidency, that it will be brought down by the malignity at its center, probably by impeachment. Last night, Barack Obama also made his farewell speech, a model of graciousness and good sense. His Administration had been a model of one that takes the responsibilities of government seriously, even if Obama had been defeated on a number of issues: gun control, a Grand Bargain to balance the budget and also fund infrastructure and other projects, bringing peace to Syria. But it will remain as a memory of probity that will stand us in good stead for the political and Constitutional crisis we are about to undergo.