Whatever Happened to Resigning on Principle?

Image result for cyrus vance carter

This past spring the president met with his White House counsel to discuss an idea. Donald Trump wanted to order the Justice Department to prosecute Hillary Clinton and James Comey, the FBI director he fired. “It is not clear which accusations Mr. Trump wanted prosecutors to pursue,” reported The New York Times.

The counsel, Don McGahn, argued against it. He won the day. Trump shelved his boneheaded plan to Lock Them Up. Hillary remains free to collect six-figure speaking fees from ethically-challenged organizations and threaten to run for president again.

That worked out OK. After all, it would be hard to overstate the political crisis that would result if a precedent were established in which the perils of running for political office were to include getting thrown into prison should you lose.

But what about what was supposed to come next: the principled resignation?

Don McGahn stared into the face of the Leader of the Free World and Keeper of the Launchcodes and saw—there’s really no more precise way to put it—a lunatic.

“Mr. McGahn apparently was able to dissuade Mr. Trump from issuing the order to prosecute political enemies by telling him that the plan was so antithetical to American political values that it could trigger impeachment proceedings,” former U.S. attorney Harry Litman wrote in the Times.

No one, not even Trump, needs anyone to tell them that the winner of a presidential election doesn’t prosecute the loser. Bush didn’t file charges against Gore, Reagan didn’t charge Mondale, and FDR didn’t go after Hoover. They do that kind of thing in Pakistan, not the U.S. If Trump didn’t know that already, he’s too stupid to serve and should be removed under the 25th Amendment. If he did know, he’s a tyrant in the making and should be impeached at once. Floating such a crazy idea is automatically, irrevocably, determinately disqualifying.

No one should work for a nutty president (presidential nut?). Remaining associated with such a loon cannot make anything better. It cannot mitigate. It cannot save the republic. It can only lead to guilt by association. When you learn that the President of the United States is insane there is only one moral thing to do: call a press conference, resign and tell the world everything you know.

Yet McGahn remains.

Why? Does he need the money? Does he like the job? Does he believe he can successfully argue against Trump the next time he floats an un-American plan? Maybe he’ll soften some of the terms of martial law. I don’t know why he’s staying on. I do know there’s no good reason and no reasonable excuse. He should have quit last spring.

Now that the news is public, so should everyone who works for Trump.

There have been a lot of McGahns in recent years. No member of the Obama Administration resigned when he greenlit the illegal political assassination of Osama bin Laden, expanded Bush’s drone wars or bailed out Wall Street banks at the expense of Main Street businesses and homeowners. No one left the Bush White House when he ginned up a BS war against Iraq or authorized systemic torture in a new series of “dark site” concentration camps and covert dungeons.

The last major resignation based on political principle seems quaint now. It occurred in 1980 when Cyrus Vance resigned as secretary of state because Jimmy Carter authorized a military operation, the failed helicopter rescue mission to Iran, rather than give diplomacy a chance to resolve the embassy hostage crisis.

Alas poor Cyrus, we hardly knew ye! There never seems to be sufficient outrage (or accountability) to prompt someone to say no to a president or an opportunity.

It’s not on par yet nevertheless worth noting: this week the White House Correspondents Association invited historian Ron Chernow to host its annual D.C. journalist-politico dinner. It’s the first time the soiree has been MCed by a non-comedian or humorist. The reason is obvious: the WHCA caved into Trump’s reaction to stand-up comic Michelle Wolf’s incendiary performance last year.

Of course the president was angry. She was funny! Good humor is dangerous. Good political humor makes big political enemies and Wolf did. After the announcement that the WHCA had ditched satire in favor of historical reflection (why can’t we have both?), Trump tweeted that he might attend this year.

Chernow ought to be ashamed of himself. He’s allowing himself to be used. He’ll be remembered as yet another tombstone on the mass grave of American political satire and as the lickspittle of our rancid little president. But even the author of the “Hamilton” book used as the basis of the hit musical couldn’t resist the siren call of nationally televised attention. He should have said no. Given what went down last year between Trump and Wolf last year, any non-comedian ought to have said no.

In 1969 Jean-Paul Sartre—Professor Chernow, I own your books and his and you are no Sartre—refused the Nobel Prize in Literature. “A writer who adopts political, social, or literary positions must act only with the means that are his own—that is, the written word. All the honors he may receive expose his readers to a pressure I do not consider desirable,” explained the father of existentialist philosophy.

Sartre is better and more fondly remembered for his rejection than many of those who accepted it.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)


7 thoughts on “Whatever Happened to Resigning on Principle?

  1. Whatever Happened to Resigning on Principle?

    Presumably, Ted (not that I would know of direct experience), resigning on principle requires that one has principles…. 😉


  2. 1) Re: “Bush didn’t file charges against Gore, Reagan didn’t charge Mondale, and FDR didn’t go after Hoover.”

    To my knowledge/recollection, quite unlike HRC, neither Hoover, Mondale nor Gore had been under FBI investigation for essentially the entire period of seeking their party’s nomination and then their presidential campaigns. Note: the essence of the HRC possible crime in question was failure to protect top secret information that COULD reasonably have been used by the likes of a Rootin’ Tootin’ Putin to meddle in US elections …. for random example.

    With the principle of “no prosecution of presidential losers,” and given the necessity to raise LOTS of $$$’s to run for president, any particularly jumbo criminal might just prefer to try for a presidential nomination to avoid prosecution, however justified.

    The US may not be like Pakistan but being completely on the opposite side of the legal spectrum from Pakistan is not necessarily optimal – justice-wise.

    2) RE: utility of White House Correspondents Association annual D.C. journalist-politico dinner

    This particularly idiotic and repulsive public frolic of the powerful and their adorers has always made me want to puke.

    If any resignations were in order, there were of two supreme presidential assholes who chose this venue, however appropriate, for really cute “jokes”: Bush looking under tables for WMD’s and Obumma warning would be suitors of his daughters that he controlled all-seeing and destroying drones.

    • I would be OK with Hillary not being charged if there were at least the recognition that Julian Assange should not be prosecuted for his revelation (publication) of leaked classified documents, some of these possibly leaked due to Hillary’s lax email security practices.

      Hillary had no problem with calling for the prosecution of whistle blowers as violators of classified information handling laws, of which she is one.

      Julian Assange may not have been prosecuted by Obama only because of fake news complicity (with such as the NYT, the Washington Post, etc.) with his publication of Wikileaks revelations, if only to avoid the legal complications (and optics) with the prosecution of journalists.

      Trump may yet take a page from Obama’s playbook and assassinate him, or pardon him, or prosecute him, depending upon the mood or the perceived personal advantage of the aspiring tyrant on some given day.

  3. Possibly, considering how insane the Trump White House is, McGahn decided someone who is not starkravingmad needs to stay there to continue observing the preznit. Once fired, there’s no telling. Trump might make his horse a senator.

    • There are persistent rumors about aides and other cronies holding him back from his most egregious actions. There was also the anonymous editorial claiming the same. So those are all to the good.

      The flip side is that those actions might prevent him from total meltdown – which also be to the good.

      meh, either way – it’s gonna be an interesting two years.

      • I’m now thinking about the only U.S. presidential resignation: Nixon. (If there’s another, I welcome being brought up to speed.) Contrary to what Ted wrote (and remember, I usually agree with Ted) about not dragging presidential opponents into court, people were furious with Ford for pardoning Nixon.
        That might not come up to the same level as dragging Nixon into court as some sort of ersatz revenge for opposing a political rival, but I am just a little bit weary of how every Oval Office denizen gets a free pass while in office and, upon exiting the office at the end of the administration, simply never being brought to court on charges because, well, because. It smacks, way too much, of how the Catholic Church kept the pedophile priests protected by moving them around and arguing about the sanctity of the church’s position in the community.
        Kissinger, who is one of Hillary Clinton’s besties (don’t forget that if she runs for 2020; bring it up every time you mention her name), has the blood of millions of people on his hands. He will NEVER end up in a courtroom in manacles waiting to plead not guilty (unless he gets on the wrong plane and ends up in one of the 100-or-so countries that has an extradition treaty and arrest warrant in a folder waiting for him to stumble into their air space). Ever. He will go to his grave without being held accountable for anything. Ditto for how many other politicians from both the democratic side and the Republican? Maybe we can start with Trump when he leaves office? Turn the whole thing into a sort of exit interview. If you didn’t start a war at the behest of your corporate masters, it’ll be quick and easy.

  4. Not to belabor the obvious, but resignation requires principles in the first place.

    Perhaps a little less obvious: Trump didn’t hire/appoint anyone with principles, and fired any leftovers who showed any.

    “The White House Correspondents’ Association has asked me to make the case for the First Amendment and I am happy to oblige,” Chernow said in a statement. “Freedom of the press is always a timely subject and this seems like the perfect moment to go back to basics.”

    hmmm, might not be such smooth sailing for the captain of the ship of state after all …

Leave a Reply