It was an understandable but bad idea to tap a recently retired general to be the next Secretary of Defense.
Understandable because Biden values personal relationships and he has a longstanding one with Genl. Lloyd Austin. Also because putting an African American in charge of our armed forces is a laudable objective.
Bad for two reasons.
First, it violates the principle of civilian control of the military. It doubles down on and in effect legitimates Trump’s earlier departure from that principle when he named Genl. James Mattis to the defense post. Two departures from the principle in a row could put it in jeopardy. The importance of reaffirming civilian control was powerfully argued in a recent NYT op-ed.
The second reason has gotten less attention, but to my mind is even more compelling. Austin is on the board of Raytheon, a huge defense contractor, and is a principal in an investment firm that owns defense contractors. It is reasonable to suppose that a person who makes his money from military spending might not bring a sharply critical eye to our bloated military budget. Austin pretty well personifies the military industrial complex that Dwight Eisenhower warned against 60 years ago. If we don’t care, then we may as well consign Ike’s warning to the dustbin of history.
I think Eric Posner is right that prosecuting Trump for crimes he committed as president would not work out well. Trump would use the trial(s) to whip his followers into perpetual frenzy. Criminal violations would be hard to prove and acquittals would enable Trump to proclaim triumphant victory over the evils of the Democrats and the deep state. On the other hand, I would place no roadblocks in the way of federal and state and local investigations into Trump for tax violations, bank fraud and other offenses he committed outside of the presidency. If it looks like Trump can be successfully prosecuted as a more or less common criminal, then he should not be held above the law.
The right occasion for holding Trump accountable for his multiple outrages as president was his impeachment. Unfortunately, the Congressional Democrats blew it. They chose to focus narrowly on Trump’s Ukraine stunt rather than go with a broad indictment of presidential malfeasance. They could have started (but not ended) with the Mueller report’s detailing of repeated obstruction of justice.
Nancy Pelosi right now could at least partly make up for her and her colleagues’ dereliction of duty. House Democrats should introduce and pass an “impeachability resolution.” The resolution should state that Trumps’ efforts to overturn the election result via mendacious claims of voter fraud constitute an impeachable offense, indeed, Trump’s worst yet: a direct assault on American democracy. An actual impeachment, of course, would be superfluous, since Trump is leaving office anyway, but he should formally be called out for his seditious behavior since the election.
Trump and his minions have taken to referring routinely to the “radical left Democrats,” which of course is ridiculous. Maybe the Bernie Sanders wing with a stretch could be called radical, but they represent only a small portion of Democrats in public office. On the other hand, as I’ve been saying for years, the GOP is truly a radical party–in its reactionary policy prescriptions, in its disdain for democratic norms, and in its general detachment from empirical reality. It is a pet peeve of mine that we never hear Democrats decrying the “radical right Republicans.” Why don’t they? Maybe some misplaced notion of civility? (“If they go low we go high.”) It’s not uncivil to say bad things about your opponents if the bad things are really true.