Breathless coverage of the latest space launches. A music festival called Woodstock becomes part of the pop culture conversation. Out in the streets of America, days of rage. And my baseball team shocks its own jaded fan base with an improbable late-season winning streak and a surge into first place. Play the Bryan Adams music, because it all happened the summer of ‘69, and now all over again in 2021. Wild stuff!
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Prosecuting Trump over 2020 election’s “Big Lie” is do-or-die for democracy
Sunday marked the 47th anniversary of Richard Nixon resigning the presidency in disgrace amid the Watergate scandal — a supposed landmark for government accountability and again showing the world that the American system worked. Yet days later came Nixon’s unorthodox pardon by his successor Gerald Ford, and then the ex-president told his interviewer David Frost that, “When the president does it, that means it is not illegal.” The ensuing half-century of unpunished White House misdeeds have backed Nixon’s brash statement up.
In the nearly seven months since Donald Trump finally slinked away from the White House, we’ve received a steady flow of alarming details about the 45th president’s deep and direct personal involvement in a wide conspiracy that’s come to be known more simply as “the Big Lie” of the 2020 presidential election: that somehow President Biden’s decisive victory in both the Electoral College and the popular vote was the result of some massive-if-never-explained fraud.
The latest bombshells involve Trump’s steady communications last December and January with a high-ranking lawyer in the Justice Department — Jeffrey Clark, a Philadelphia native — about misusing the power of the federal government to pressure Republican state lawmakers in Georgia to throw out the recounted and audited election results showing Biden had narrowly won their state. Clark went so far as to draft a letter to those lawmakers stating that federal prosecutors were investigating major fraud in the Peach State (they weren’t, actually) that his alarmed superiors refused to send.
The Clark letter was written on December 28, 2020 — the day after a contentious call in which Trump badgered his acting attorney general, Jeffrey Rosen, to, according to an aide’s notes of the call, “just say that the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me” and Trump’s allies in Congress. As the January 6 congressional certification of the Electoral College votes drew closer, Trump weighed replacing Rosen at the top of the Justice Department with Clark — who was suggesting that China may have changed U.S. voting results through internet-connected thermostats — which would have triggered mass resignations and brought the mess out into the open.
Trump ultimately kept Rosen and — while a majority of Republicans in the House voted to block certification of the election results from Pennsylvania and Arizona, even after the violent January 6 insurrection that resulted in five deaths — the effort to stop the peaceful transition of power to Biden fell short. But the new revelations about the Trump-driven work of rogue prosecutor Clark — when coupled with what we already know about the president’s threatening phone calls to state election officials in Georgia — paint a clear picture of a chief executive bullying officials to lie about or actually change the 2020 vote count. On its face, it’s a clear-cut case of criminal election tampering.
What’s more, the high-level machinations by Trump very much overlapped his efforts to exhort his rank-and-file supporters to flood Washington on January 6, capped by his midday speech urging the crowd to march on the Capitol and pressure wavering Republicans as well as then-Vice President Mike Pence not to certify the election. In dramatic congressional testimony last month, Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn, who tried to fight back the pro-Trump mob, said that “a hitman sent” them, adding, “I want you to get to the bottom of that.”
So do I, and so do millions of other Americans. Trump’s crusade from November 3 through January 6 was nothing less than a coup attempt that came closer to success than we realized, or seem willing to admit now. Since replacing Trump on January 20, Biden has been laser-focused on the COVID-19 crisis and economic relief for our struggling middle class. With the same “look forward, not back” vibe that led not only to Nixon’s pardon but a lack of accountability for presidential scandals like Iran-Contra or the Bush-Cheney torture regime, Biden has placed any decision on whether to prosecute Trump in this hands of his attorney general, Merrick Garland — whose cautious, by-the-book approach could follow the tired Nixon-Reagan-Bush track.
Meanwhile, as the lack of meaningful action against Trump or his high-level accomplices drags on, so-called “thought leaders” on the far right are increasingly embracing overt fascism as a proper response to any political and cultural power wielded by Team Biden or those on his left flank. That’s leading to gob-smacking moments like Fox News’ Tucker Carlson’s journey and open embrace of Hungarian strongman Viktor Orban, or talk among conservatives of “an American Caesar” to crack down on liberalism. That U.S. dictator on his white horse in 2024 could be Donald Trump, unless we decide that presidents are no longer above the law.
Make no mistake, the arrest and criminal prosecution of Trump would be a messy, ugly affair, that would surely stir up some dark forces on the far right — but these forces are already out there, and they are already feeling emboldened. Not charging Trump and his associates with the conspiracy to tamper with the election and incite violence on January 6 would essentially amend the Constitution to ratify that when a president does it, that means it is not illegal. Democracy will wither if we allow a hitman to roam free.
Yo, do this
This year will be remembered around these parts as a summer of great baseball — for both the Phillies’ eight-game (and counting) winning streak into first place and for my second trip to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. (and the first one was literally more than a half-century ago!). In addition to the world’s greatest collection of baseball holy relics, Cooperstown is surrounded by beautiful lush hills and a long glassy lake, and was a 40-minute drive from a cool historic cruise on the Erie Canal. It’s little more than four hours from Philly — a perfect long weekend getaway.
What happens when you put Philly attytood on the case of the world’s greatest sex-perversion scandal? You get the remarkable journalism of my friend and former Daily News colleague Julie K. Brown — Bucks County bred and Temple proud. Brown uncovered the true story of billionaire Jeffrey Epstein and the young girls that he victimized after Epstein’s powerful friends (who included a pair of presidents) helped bury it. Now the story behind this story is a new book called Perversion of Justice, and I can’t wait to read it. Neither should you.
Ask me anything
Question: Do you believe this Phillies win streak will continue? Is it safe to go back in on the team before they break my heart again? — Via @YNWABell on Twitter
Answer: No one’s been harder on the 2021 Phillies than me, from their seeming lack of chemistry as a team to their lack of belief in chemistry, a.k.a. the coronavirus vaccine. But with a streak that has shockingly propelled them into 1st place in MLB’s worst division, you gotta believe in this team to at least make the playoffs for the first time in a decade. Bryce Harper is earning his gargantuan paycheck with his leadership both at the plate and off the field. It’s exhilarating, but none of this means they won’t break your heart. It’s baseball, man.
Monday brought a significant development in the biggest news story facing humankind: The long awaited progress (or lack of progress) report on climate change from the planet’s top panel of scientists (or “science,” in scare quotes, as Fox News described it): The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) convened by the United Nations. The IPCC report got well-deserved, top-of-the-hour, front-page media coverage for its key finding — that the effects from human fossil-fuel pollution have already warmed the Earth with deadly impacts, and that a generation of drastic measures is needed to stave off a much more dire future.
Still, one imagines that the report — which ratifies what anyone who’s watched the world burn this summer from California to Greece already knows — might have sounded too depressing for the global public (who is also reeling from a never-ending pandemic) to fully drink it all in.
I think it’s critical that the public grasp at the most positive notion embedded in the climate report: That humans still have agency to save the planet, if we act quickly and decisively. After decades of dithering, the United States, historically the largest contributor of greenhouse-gas pollution, is moving under a Democratic president and Congress to enact an ambitious program to fight climate change with money for utilities to shift to clean energy, to rapidly transition to electric vehicles, and to boost wind and solar power. Even anecdotally, having traveled to Pittsburgh and upstate New York the last couple of weekends, the sense of a changing world — with a lot more charging stations and with wind and solar farms dotting the Pennsylvania Turnpike — is palpable. To paraphrase John Lennon, carbon pollution is over, if you want it.
Inquirer reading list
The pundit world has been slam dunking on the left wing of the Democratic Party for losing key primary races in Cleveland, New York City and elsewhere. But in my Sunday column I argued that the five-day protest led by Missouri Rep. Cori Bush, one of the new members of “the Squad” on Capitol Hill, to stop evictions shows why the party needs progressives, to keep young voters on board — and do the right thing.
Over the weekend, I wrote about the deep moral rot of America’s drone-killing program — which in targeting terrorists has murdered hundreds upon hundreds of innocent civilians — and how it created a troubled generation of whistleblowers and peace activists. I urged President Biden to pardon the truth-tellers like Daniel Hale and Reality Winner, who alerted the American public to what is being done in our name.
Inquirer columnist Mike Sielski is a great story-teller — not just about sports but about life. His column about high school basketball friend and World Trade Center casualty Bobby McIlvane — and a moment of rebirth in a short video that also included more recently departed sports legend Kobe Bryant — is the first 9/11 anniversary piece I’ve read, and it may be the last, because there won’t be a better one. In-depth journalism takes time, and that means support from readers like you. Please consider subscribing to The Inquirer and keeping local journalism alive.