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Donald Trump, Impeachment, and the Houston Astros

January 17, 2020
Donald Trump, Impeachment, and the Houston Astros

1. Baseball

Here is a question for you: Is Major League Baseball overreacting to the sign-stealing systems employed over the last couple of years by the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox?

In case you haven’t been following it, both the Astros and the Sox stand accused of employing a complicated system to steal signs that involved cameras, wearable devices, and coordination with the dugouts.

MLB finished its investigation and concluded that during their 2017 World Series run, the Astros were guilty as sin. The league is investigating the Sox 2018 World Series run now.

Already, Houston’s GM and manager were given 1-year suspensions from the league and then fired by the franchise. Boston’s manager has been preemptively fired, as has the new skipper of the Mets (who came to the team via Houston).

I encourage you to read Tom Boswell’s column about all of this because I pretty much agree with his conclusion that cheating ruins everything and that if baseball doesn’t protect the integrity of the game, they will be wounding the sport itself.

It simply isn’t good enough to say that it’s no big deal. Or everybody does it. Or you can’t prove to a metaphysical certainty that the cheating actually changed any of the outcomes.

I hope you agree with me.

2. Impeachment

All of that said, I would be very interested in knowing what the Venn diagram of “People Who Support Throwing the Book at the Astros” and “People Who Support Impeaching Trump” looks like.

Because the sign-stealing scandal and the extortion of Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election are substantially similar stories in many ways.

Both cases involve parties breaking clear rules—in the case of the Astros, its rules about the use of electronics; in the Ukraine case it’s the hold put on congressionally-mandated foreign aid.

In both cases, the rule breaking was an attack on the actual integrity of the system. In the case of the Astros, we’re not talking about using PEDs, which have a passive effect on all player actions—we’re talking about an active attack on gameplay as it happens. In the case of Trump, we’re not talking about a guy taking bribes from a government contractor. We’re talking about an attempt to monkey with the results of the next election.

And in both cases, if you were really determined to do it, you could come up with some excuses:

  • It wasn’t just the Astros. (Or Trump.) Everyone was doing it.
  • The rules about sign stealing (or influencing elections) aren’t as cut and dry as they seem. You could interpret them lots of ways.
  • You can’t prove to a metaphysical certainty that the sign-stealing was why the Astros won the World Series. Or that Trump’s holding up of aid actually changed anything with regard to Ukraine.
  • The governing body has total discretion with how to deal with this. Major League Baseball—or the U.S. Senate—can do whatever they want. This is a political, not a legal, process.

I could understand people who want to throw the book at both Trump and the sign stealers. I can understand people who say neither should be punished.

What I can’t understand is people who would want to bring down righteous justice on the Astros, but don’t want Trump removed from office.

And while I don’t know how big that group is—it’s not like anyone is going to conduct this poll for me—I suspect it’s pretty sizable.

If only we were as willing to care for the integrity of our republic as we are to care for the integrity of baseball.

3. A Very Stable Genius

The Washington Post has an excerpt from Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker’s new book, A Very Stable Genius. This show-stopping incident has been reported before, but never with this much detail. And there were so many witnesses that if this account is reliable. I urge you to read it all:

Trump organized his unorthodox worldview under the simplistic banner of “America First,” but Mattis, Tillerson, and Cohn feared his proposals were rash, barely considered, and a danger to America’s superpower standing. They also felt that many of Trump’s impulsive ideas stemmed from his lack of familiarity with U.S. history and, even, where countries were located. To have a useful discussion with him, the trio agreed, they had to create a basic knowledge, a shared language.

So on July 20, 2017, Mattis invited Trump to the Tank for what he, Tillerson, and Cohn had carefully organized as a tailored tutorial. What happened inside the Tank that day crystallized the commander in chief’s berating, derisive and dismissive manner, foreshadowing decisions such as the one earlier this month that brought the United States to the brink of war with Iran. The Tank meeting was a turning point in Trump’s presidency. Rather than getting him to appreciate America’s traditional role and alliances, Trump began to tune out and eventually push away the experts who believed their duty was to protect the country by restraining his more dangerous impulses. . . .

Trump appeared peeved by the schoolhouse vibe but also allergic to the dynamic of his advisers talking at him. His ricocheting attention span led him to repeatedly interrupt the lesson. He heard an adviser say a word or phrase and then seized on that to interject with his take. For instance, the word “base” prompted him to launch in to say how “crazy” and “stupid” it was to pay for bases in some countries.

Trump’s first complaint was to repeat what he had vented about to his national security adviser months earlier: South Korea should pay for a $10 billion missile defense system that the United States built for it. The system was designed to shoot down any short- and medium-range ballistic missiles from North Korea to protect South Korea and American troops stationed there. But Trump argued that the South Koreans should pay for it, proposing that the administration pull U.S. troops out of the region or bill the South Koreans for their protection.

“We should charge them rent,” Trump said of South Korea. “We should make them pay for our soldiers. We should make money off of everything.” . . .

Trump unleashed his disdain, calling Afghanistan a “loser war.” That phrase hung in the air and disgusted not only the military leaders at the table but also the men and women in uniform sitting along the back wall behind their principals. They all were sworn to obey their commander in chief’s commands, and here he was calling the war they had been fighting a loser war.

“You’re all losers,” Trump said. “You don’t know how to win anymore.”

Trump questioned why the United States couldn’t get some oil as payment for the troops stationed in the Persian Gulf. “We spent $7 trillion; they’re ripping us off,” Trump boomed. “Where is the f—ing oil?” . . .

Trump by now was in one of his rages. He was so angry that he wasn’t taking many breaths. All morning, he had been coarse and cavalier, but the next several things he bellowed went beyond that description. They stunned nearly everyone in the room, and some vowed that they would never repeat them. Indeed, they have not been reported until now.

“I wouldn’t go to war with you people,” Trump told the assembled brass.

Addressing the room, the commander in chief barked, “You’re a bunch of dopes and babies.”

Read the whole thing

The morning after Trump’s first debate with Hillary Clinton, I had a conversation with a good friend of mine who was quite pro-Trump. This guy was the first person I saw to make the unambiguous case that Trump could win the White House and he was—and is—deeply sympathetic to the entire nationalist project.

And on the morning after that first debate, he said to me—and here I’m paraphrasing:

Well, he obviously can’t be president. He’s obviously, flatly unfit for office. Nobody that stupid should ever be allowed within a mile of the presidency. And nobody looking at that performance in good faith could possibly deny any of this.

That’s the basic fact of Trump’s presidency. People have accommodated themselves to reality, because Trump is the president. But by any objective measure, he’s utterly, completely, undeniably unfit for office at the most basic level.

There were people who hoped that the office of the president would elevate Trump. Instead, quite the opposite has happened.

Jonathan V. Last

Jonathan V. Last is editor of The Bulwark.