The Most Centrist Take: Don’t impeach Trump, but do pass a law clarifying that extortion is bad now

Allow me to present the most "centrist" possible take on the impeachment of Donald Trump. The most studiously amoral, the one that treats bothsides-ism not merely as political dalliance, but as gymnastic artistry. The mewling that will dominate all centrist discourse for the foreseeable future, if the editors of all the major outlets have a thing to say about it.

Politico and the president of Duquesne University present for your consideration: Impeachment is divisive. How 'bout we just not do that?

The central premise, and I am shorthanding it only a bit, is that in this highly charged political environment that threatens to divide us and require politicians to stand up for things, there is a reasonable compromise available. We could all agree to not impeach Donald Trump for holding back this nation's military and diplomatic support from a nation, an act that violated the law, as a means of pressuring a foreign government to invent a new investigation of a domestic political enemy. Instead, the House and Senate should pass a new law clarifying that a president using the tools of his government to extract things of value to him, personally, one of the few actions specifically called out and barred by the United States Constitution itself, is Actually Illegal. From here on in.

Not this time around, though. Because it was confusing the first time around, and because Republicans don't want to. So Donald Trump will for now be allowed to extort things of personal value from foreign allies in exchange for official acts of government, but the next president would know for certain that no, that is extra-super not allowed and that we would put the president in jail for doing it.

And if that future president did violate that new law and the Constitution both, again telling Congress to sod off and ordering all members of his administration to defy congressional oversight efforts because see-above sodding off, well the next time around it would be far clearer that the president super-duper broke the law "per se" and "it would be nearly impossible for [brazenly corrupt stain-on-the-nation Republican senators] to defend the president without triggering a public revolt."

You know, because now the prohibition on using a government position to solicit things of personal, private value, aka soliciting a bribe, has been spelled out even more. What future leader, with the assistance of what future senators, would be able to get away with something as brazen as that? The second time, I mean. The first time, we're going to let it slide.

We are not going to debate the merits of this idea. Instead, this Most Centrist American Take needs to be properly immortalized. We need to found a new museum dedicated only and entirely to this take. Here are a list of phrases that are used unironically in it. There is, I emphasize, no apparent sarcasm involved:

• Impeachment will be "time-consuming, bruising, wrenching and divisive, causing the country to become dangerously distracted."

• A no-impeachment quid for a new-law quo "would give each side a partial victory."

• "Few senators of either party want to be mired in this lose-lose situation. It is far better to gain something beneficial for the country and move on."

Let me interrupt to say that this is not parody. All of this is being written with apparent earnestness.

• "Presidents moving forward would be on notice that manipulating or consorting with foreign governments to extract personal political gain is unlawful."

• "Individuals surrounding the president" who assisted in future attempts to do exactly what Trump and his associates would for now get away with "would be on notice." Yeah, take that future equally-corrupt officials.

• Ending impeachment in exchange for a new bill barring foreign extortion would mean that "members of both parties can feel they rose above the ugly partisanship that has consumed our nation."

• Both parties will have "figured out how to get a half loaf" while "keeping government intact."

And that—that right there, is the ultimate centrist take. Our two sides cannot agree on whether an identified act of extortion for personal gain (criminal in all other contexts but this one) is bad; an exact midpoint position would therefore be to declare that it obviously is bad, but that the potential for "divisiveness" requires we do nothing of consequence about it.

For example: Torture is against national and international law. We have previously specified what constitutes torture, in sufficient detail to prosecute those that have engaged in it. But if our leaders decide to torture anyway, it shall be deemed Divisive and those that have engaged in it must face no legal consequences lest the nation become disallusioned.

For example: Using fraudulent intelligence in order to lie a free people into an ideologically desired war is bad, but the far worse crime against civility would be for those that lied to face general public scorn, much less career damage, for doing so.

For example: The most senior official in our nation's government may have robbed a bank at gunpoint, but the spectacle of public trial would dangerously "distract" our officials from their duties. Let us all agree that the president is allowed to keep the money, but pencil in "robbed a bank" and "gunpoint" as explicitly against the rules from here on out.

And thus the problem is solved forever, with no consequences or adverse implications that may come back to do immense damage later on, with the likely involvement of the same advisers and officials that got away with it from the Nixon era to today. Now we can, to precisely quote from the essay that brought us here, "move on."

White House responds to House impeachment with more lies and gibberish

White House "press secretary" Stephanie Grisham, who may or may not be a crisis actor hired on for three hours a week or Andy Kaufman doing a bit from beyond the grave, is out with the official Trump White House response to impeachment.

It's not worth more than a cursory going-over, because Stephanie Grisham is a propagandist working against the interests of this nation. She is a liar. The brief statement is a rehash of Team Trump burnings on "this sham, illegitimate impeachment process," the claim that the House Speaker "lied," and an attack on the House for holding the articles of impeachment over the holidays rather than letting the corrupt McConnell punt them into the Atlantic the day after the House vote. It claims Trump was denied "due process" by the House—when in fact the House had been asking the White House to participate every step of the way. White House lawyers were invited to appear and argue their case; the White House refused. Trump was invited to produce witnesses who could rebut the charges—not only did the White House refuse, Trump's team issued a blanket order forbidding any of his team with direct knowledge from testifying.

The tactical pause in sending impeachment articles to the Senate has already proven its value. Over the holidays and into January, new evidence has continued to come out both confirming the details of the effort to extort the Ukrainian government into opening an "investigation" of one of Trump's political enemies, highlighting Trump's "lawyer" Rudy Giuliani's role not only in that bit of election manipulation but in the efforts of a set of corrupt Ukrainian oligarchs to sabotage the current Ukrainian government, and adding astonishing new hints that the team may have contemplated violent acts against the U.S. ambassador they saw as blocking their efforts.

All of this is information that Sen. Mitch McConnell and Trump's other Senate allies had intended to render moot with a quick, no-witnesses, no-arguments nullification of the House charges. McConnell was quite open in stating his intentions. He publicly bragged about it.

The House thwarted that plan with the holiday delay. Now that House impeachment investigators have a much clearer picture of how the Senate intends to comport itself, how far Republican senators are willing to go to block evidence, and how unstable McConnell's protection of Trump's extortion racket truly is, in the face of ever-expanding evidence confirming the White House scheme, it has named impeachment managers best equipped to present the House case in those circumstances.

That does not mean anyone in the nation can convince current Republican lawmakers to condemn Trump's plain abuses of the office or prod them into not being active accomplices to corrupt acts. There is no Republican voice—and certainly, not even a single person in the White House itself—not working to assist Trump in getting away with his every profit-seeking and Constitution-bending act. But the House is not going to allow those crimes to be brushed aside so easily. History, at least, will know damn well what each Republican lawmaker stood for, and defended.

Van Drew’s would-be 2020 campaign manager will now be working to unseat him

New Jersey's formerly Democratic Rep. Jeff Van Drew took careful aim and shot his own foot off last December with his decision not just to oppose the impeachment of Donald Trump for his acts against Ukraine and our democracy, primarily because he believed it would make his district's conservative voters mad, but to join the Republican Party to make sure those voters knew just how pliable he can be.

Goal Thermometer

Many of Van Drew's congressional staffers quit, because of course they did. Now Van Drew's would-be 2020 campaign manager, who dumped Van Drew because Of Course, is taking a new job. Josh Roesch will now be managing the campaign of one of Van Drew's prominent challengers: Democrat Amy Kennedy. "I thought I was working for a Democrat," Roesch told NJ Advance Media. Now, he's working for a new one.

There may be some effort to spin this up as a rivalry between Van Drew and Roesch, or to frame Roesch's move as an effort to sabotage his one-time client. The truth is less flashy, as it's not likely that the two campaigns will ever clash directly. The brand new baby Republican Van Drew first has to fend off Republican primary challengers and a Republican base that wants considerably more froth and spittle than a mere opportunist can provide. Van Drew may have cozied up to Trump in a White House meeting, but he will still be branded a near-communist in the coming months.

Van Drew's strategy for winning reelection isn't looking any better today than it did in the days he first leaked it. We don't know who the next Congress member from South Jersey will be, but it's almost certainly not going to be him.

Donate now to make turncoat Jeff Van Drew pay for switching to the GOP.

Pompeo will be dodging Congress again, this time over ‘imminent’ Iran threats

The Washington Post reports that once again, ostensible Secretary of State Mike Pompeo looks to be dodging an invitation to Congress to explain administration positions on absolutely anything. He's been asked to testify to the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the theoretical "imminent" danger posed by Iranian Maj. Gen. Soleimani, before being assassinated by the United States in an operation apparently pushed by Pompeo himself. It doesn't look like he'll be taking the opportunity.

"Right now it looks like he's not coming," Rep. Eliot Engel told the Post. "We haven't heard from him."

As the Post's Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman explain, this is becoming a significantly more important dodge, on Pompeo's part, with the news that Soleimani was one of two attempted assassinations of Iranian officials on the same day. The second attack, targeting another Quds commander, took place in Yemen on the same day. That makes the Soleimani attack less a target of opportunity or an assassination of a particular terrorist-sympathetic official; it instead appears to have been one prong of a larger U.S. military attack on the Quds Force itself.

While that operation seems to have been larger in scope than Trump's team was telling the public, however, the rationale for the attack, an alleged "imminent" danger to U.S. forces, has been getting softer by the day. A new Trump claim that four U.S. embassies were being targeted is, according to lawmakers, news to them; the claim wasn't part of last week's House and Senate briefings to lawmakers. It's also news to Trump's own Secretary of Defense, who was forced to admit on Face the Nation this morning that he "didn't see" any such evidence.

We know less, in other words, then we did before administration briefed the House and Senate on the justifications for the Soleimani assassination. And that's exactly the problem that the State Department, which has taken a dominant role on this despite military operations not generally being in their portfolio, might want to be clearing up.

It is likely that Pompeo's reluctance to further explaining the "imminence" of the danger posed by Soleimani stems directly from the White House's ever-changing stories. Whatever Trump is claiming in public, the forever self-serving Pompeo wants to dodge stepping in that, as the Secretary of Defense just did. Those that do not robustly defend Trump's oft-egregiously false claims do not stay in Trump's inner circle for long.

But Pompeo might have an even more self-serving reason for hiding from Congress. He doesn't want to testify about his role in the Ukrainian extortion scheme that has now led to impeachment charges against Trump and which as implicated multiple top administration members—something that is very, very likely to come up, when Democratic lawmakers have the opportunity to question him about State Department antics. Wanted criminals do not generally waltz into courthouses to pay their parking tickets; one of the three Trump officials who oversaw an extortion scheme that would have seen Trump exchange foreign military aid for a "probe" of his next possible election opponent does not want to put himself before the House Foreign Affairs Committee even to talk about the weather.

So Pompeo, for now, won't be "testifying" to Congress about any of his own actions. Not assassinations; not Ukraine policy. Nothing. The precariousness of Pompeo's position, both in furthering Trump's actions and in cover-up, means he is more likely to resign his post than willingly submit to questions about those acts, but the most likely eventual outcome is that he is forced to do both.

Defense secretary’s chief of staff tenders resignation as Trump team moves toward war

The exodus of top Defense officials under Team Trump continues. In the weeks before Christmas, five senior Pentagon officials resigned their posts for unclear reasons. Now Defense Secretary Mark Esper's chief of staff, former Army intelligence officer Eric Chewning, has delivered his own resignation.

Politico reports that Chewning will be leaving at the end of the month, and is departing to spend more time not enabling war cri—sorry, is leaving for unspecified reasons for a new job in the "private sector." The involved parties, or at least the ones talking, appear to be intent on painting this new departure as routine.

That's a bit eyebrow-raising; in general, senior defense officials do not start heading for the exits in the weeks before their nation undertakes a dramatic new escalation of military force.

Behind the scenes, though, Esper's office appears to be in turmoil. A Foreign Policy report on Sunday revealed that Trump Defense Secretary Esper had cut senior Pentagon leaders out of the loop on the Suleimani assassination, and that the Joint Chiefs of Staff were not consulted or briefed on the operation ahead of time. “The usual approval process, the decision-making process, did not occur,” an anonymous defense official told FP.

And while the Pentagon appeared to attempt to weasel out of responsibility for the decision with a New York Times-reported claim that the option of striking the senior Iranian military leader during a diplomatic mission in Iraq was not intended to be a "realistic" proposal, but only an extremist option meant to make other options look more palatable, that reporting is implausible.

In fact, it seems to be another administration lie: other reporting notes that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, deeply involved in the Ukraine extortion scheme that led to House impeachment articles against Trump but still firmly in his post, has for months been pressuring Trump to assassinate Soleimani.

Were the string of top Pentagon resignations in the last few weeks due to Esper's move to cut opposition voices out of the decision-making process, when presenting Trump with extremist options intended to escalate the chances of a new Iran war? Or did the departed officials know what the Trump Team was intending? We don't know. On the eve of another new shooting war, we don't know anything.

White House impeachment defense still in flux, because Trump still wants his Senate clown show

The Wall Street Journal has a look at White House counsel and Ukraine cover-up accessory Pat Cipollone's efforts to steer Donald Trump through the speediest and rigged-est Senate impeachment trial that can be managed. As usual, the most noteworthy parts are the hints that, no matter what Cipollone wants, he is constrained by what he can get the great orange buffoon to agree to. And the great orange buffoon wants a clown show.

Cipollone's status as head of the White House impeachment defense seems secure, according to the Journal, but the Oval Office Hate Pumpkin wants lawyers on his team with more "television experience." "Under consideration are Jay Sekulow, one of the president’s personal lawyers, and Alan Dershowitz," reports the Journal, while noting that Dershowitz currently is fighting an Epstein-related rape allegation. (Other White Houses would almost certainly avoid such a figure; Trump, accused of rape himself, of course has no such inhibitions.)

Also still being contemplated as part of the Senate impeachment defense team: Trump's "staunchest defenders" among the House Republicans that humiliated themselves during the House Judiciary and Intelligence committee impeachment hearings. We can take that to mean, no doubt, crime-auctioneer Doug Collins, the ever-coatless Jim Jordan, and whoever else yelled the loudest. It is less likely to include Rep. Devin Nunes, who did not disclose during those impeachment hearings that he had direct involvement in the Ukraine schemes himself, via the now-indicted Lev Parnas. Nunes has been keeping a considerably lower profile since that tidbit was outed, and probably does not want to be anywhere near Senate questioners right now.

So, the short version: clown show. Donald Trump wants a clown show. He wants it to be staffed by people he has seen on his television set, because those are the only people he trusts, and White House counsel Cipollone may or may not have enough clout to talk him out of it. Senate Republicans do not want a clown show, because the longer a trial drags on, the more tenuous their claims of not knowing or understanding the evidence against Trump, including that provided by numerous witnesses, become. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is still unabashedly assuring the public that the fix is in and the trial, if there is one, will be dispensed with in short order; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is still putting a hold on transmitting the articles of impeachment to the Senate in an effort to pressure McConnell into at least pretending to not be as corkscrew-crooked as he is.

The longer Pelosi holds up the Senate trial, the more irate Trump is likely to get. The more irate Trump gets, the more likely it is he will lose his temper with Cipollone, as he has with seemingly every single other White House official who has ever tried to stop him from doing Stupid Things, and instead put some shouting television idiot in charge.

And that's assuming no new evidence comes out in the next few weeks that highlights, yet again, how brazenly illegal the White House understood Trump's Ukraine orders to be. The odds of no such evidence popping up? Near zero.

Pompeo to head to Ukraine—but we don’t know why he’s really going

While Donald Trump nullifies the nation's foreign policy in efforts to wring a bit of gain for himself, and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani continues a partnership with Ukrainian ex-officials and indicted criminals seemingly intended to destabilize the existing Ukraine government for the benefit of those new allies, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will be traveling to Ukraine later this week to ... well, we really don't know.

If we're being honest about it, we can't say we really know why he's going. The official reason for Pompeo's brief visit, which will include a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, is to "reaffirm U.S. support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity." But Pompeo will also be meeting with other officials to, The Washington Post reports, "discuss the [Ukrainian] government's reform agenda."

That last part, an alleged concern that the Ukrainian government show its commitment to anticorruption "reforms," is the exact phrasing the Trump White House used throughout its effort to extort the Ukrainian government into opening "investigations" of Democrats, and notably of Joe Biden. And there's the catch: This White House is notoriously dishonest, Trump himself has proven absolutely unable to stop committing unethical acts even when caught outright, and Mike Pompeo personally remains implicated in the original extortion effort against Ukraine. One that, for all we know, may yet be ongoing: One of Pompeo’s actions earlier this month was to order Ambassador William Taylor, who testified in the congressional impeachment inquiry, to leave Ukraine before Pompeo’s arrival.

The Trump White House's Ukraine policy is vastly different from the nation's Ukraine policy as understood by our nation's diplomats and functionaries. Official U.S. policy is to stand by Ukraine, a NATO ally, as Putin's Russia continues its military assaults on that nation. Unofficially, however, multiple Trump Cabinet members have each assisted in a White House scheme to stall Ukraine aid, weaken congressional sanctions against Russia, and withhold most public messages of U.S. support for Ukraine until and unless that government was willing to do personal favors for the Oval Office tweeter. Pompeo is among them.

Which policy is Pompeo traveling to Ukraine to push forward? The State Department policy, or Rudy Giuliani's version? None of us, in the press or in the public, truly knows. Pompeo is so compromised, by testimony against him and by his own refusal to testify to Congress, that he cannot be trusted as a noncorrupt player. He ought to have stepped down the moment he refused to answer Congress' demands for his own testimony.

Supreme Court to decide whether Montana is required to fund religious schools

In January, the John Roberts-led Supreme Court will hear arguments about a now-shuttered school "choice" program in Montana. As per usual, the program was intended to siphon students and money away from public schools toward private versions: Specifically, all but one of the 13 participating private schools were explicitly religious.

As explained by The New York Times, the Montana Supreme Court ruled that the state can't keep the program because funding religious schools is explicitly barred by the state constitution. The Supreme Court is now taking up the case to decide if Montana should be ... forced? ... to restart the now-ended experiment because reasons, that's why. So get ready for that.

The court seldom seems to weigh in on a case and superemphasize that a lower court's ruling was correct and fine, so we can take from this that the court's conservatives will see a case to be made that Montana residents are required to support individual religious programs, whether they want to or not, nullifying that provision of the state’s constitution. The court has inched more toward the notion that separation of church and state requires the state to fund explicitly religious versions of secular institutions if those religious groups request it, which is always an extremely popular argument on the right, until the Church of Satan shows up asking for the same check.

At that point, conservative lawmakers often suddenly decide those rights or programs shouldn't exist after all.

This is a bit of a baffling case for the Supreme Court to take on, because there doesn't seem to be any obvious thing to reverse. The state is not discriminating against religious schools over nonreligious ones, because the Montana Supreme Court ended the program for all schools, religious or not. And it seems bizarre to think that the same Supreme Court that has been vaporous about big government overreach would demand that a closed program be reopened.

Or not. It's impossible to say.

What we will not be hearing about, in whatever decision emerges: the sanctity of "states' rights" in making these decisions, rather than the states being forced into compliance by federal lawmakers and activist judges. We will also not hear about the dangers of creeping Sharia, of fundamentalist religious extremists establishing madrassas bent on indoctrinating American children. We will hear that whatever you think the separation between church and state means, you are wrong, the prior Supreme Courts were wrong, and anyone to the left of Force Projection Scalia is not just wrong but probably a communist for thinking otherwise.

Other than that, we don't know. It's entirely within the realm of the possible that two decades from now, a good chunk of American schoolchildren will attend hard-right schools teaching tots that womenfolk ought to be submissive, dinosaur bones were planted by Satan to make Donald Trump look bad, and sex is a holy sacrament between a man and his freshly cleaned assault rifle—all paid for by your tax dollars and mine because screw you, that's why. We might get there an inch at a time, because it is very, very hilariously important to Chief Justice John Roberts that he sell himself as nonpartisan even as he upends the last hundred years of court precedents with a "Well, maybe just this once" look on his face, but that seems to be where the path is leading.

If there are no penalties for misleading the public, the public will always be misled

What are we to take from the news that not only has the theoretical "president" of the nation has told well over 15,000 documentable public lies since his inauguration, but told more lies during this past year than the previous two years combined?

That Donald J. Trump is getting worse, obviously. That's not a particular surprise. Trump is transparently a malignant narcissist, and is facing a malignant narcissist's single worst fear: being exposed as not the greatest gift to this universe and all who inhabit it, but a fraud. He will remain "impeached," in the history books, forever.

But we can also infer from this news that Trump is lying more boldly and more often precisely because he was successful at it the previous two years. That isn't Trump's doing. That is the doing of journalists, of "pundits," of their editors and outlets, and of, especially, Republican lawmakers.

Donald Trump could not lie to the American public 15,000 times if lying to the public carried negative consequences, rather than positive ones. It doesn't. We can debate whether this was the case in past decades, and in some other context that might be useful, but all can certainly agree that lying to the public right now, in the forms of government-to-public, lawmaker-to-public, pundit-to-public, or media-outlet-to-public is not only commonplace but has been elevated to become a top political strategy.

Did a sitting president get caught asking a foreign government to investigate a political opponent? Lie about it. Outright. Boldly. It is possible to gaslight the public furiously, on basic questions of current fact, without the news anchors of the day sternly pointing out that lawmaker so-and-so has evidently either 1.) lost their grip on reality and needs to be removed from elected office for public safety reasons or 2.) is being so blazingly dishonest that the public cannot, and should not, believe anything they say ever again.

That part, right there, is the catastrophe. If it is possible for a national leader to tell 15,000 lies to the public without being considered unfit for the job, then democracy does not exist.

There is no such thing as candidates making their case for the best path forward, and the public validating which path, collectively, the nation should follow. There is no best path. There is no path. There is only a contest to see who can invent the most self-serving version of reality, upon which we elect the best of the liars, who will continue to lie to the public about what they are doing while, instead, they do anything else.

That Republican lawmakers sought to defend Trump from impeachment with false information, claiming Joe Biden was not referenced in the phone call (despite even the White House's text saying otherwise) or that no pressure was put on Ukraine (despite witness after witness confirming it) is not surprising. It also may not be survivable. If we are two countries, served by two competing narratives and pushed forward according only by who can best sell their version to a public with fewer and fewer means of verifying which is true and which is the lie, with competing oligarchic factions here and abroad funneling cash into the particular frauds that best benefit them, that will be the ball game.

This rather dire but by no means uncommon warning and/or prediction is sometimes described as the nation's epistemic crisis, a turning point at which factionalism (aka being a Republican) trumps regard for facts themselves (such as which laws truly exist; whether the economy is doing well or is not; whether Russia was responsible for election hacking, as all experts attest, or whether the president's pro bono personal lawyer is right that none of it actually happened, according to the testimony of known hucksters). It's less often that anyone comes with a credible scenario for how that end point is dodged.

There is only one such scenario. Lying to the public—propagandizing—must be punished. We can leave the moralizing out of it; you will not get far with the claim that telling 15,000 lies is bad or wrong. Surely, however, surely we can as a matter of journalistic convention agree that telling 15,000 lies makes you untrustworthy. It renders you unfit for public service. No matter which moral stipulations we might attach to the post, from marital fidelity to paying your damn taxes, the matter of lying repeatedly to the public as means of obtaining and extending public power defeats the principle of democracy itself, and must be shunned.

Fox News will not do that. But The New York Times could, if the editors truly believed their paper had public responsibilities commensurate with its public footprint.

If CNN inflicted a penalty upon liars, rather than hiring them on and giving them salaries to perform their antics, circus-style, much of this would end. If other networks chose to ignore the frothiest of propagandists when putting together panels, the professional liars would have fewer places to go. That would be a start. The airports of the world do not need to broadcast blaring lies, day after day and month after month, and there is nothing about the travel experience made better by hearing from known liar Kellyanne Conway. You could replace every television with a fish tank and the traveling public would come out better informed. It would probably cut airport drunkenness in half.

And yet here we are, still, and there seems no inclination to upset a status quo in which lawmakers and paid propagandists can lie, outright, to the American people and be granted the same conventions of pseudo-respect as honorable counterparts. Why wouldn't they lie, then? There is literally zero downside. The not-liars, in the meantime, are hopelessly constrained by having to live only in one reality rather than dozens.

It is evident the press favors the thrill of conflict and believes itself to have no public responsibility in these matters whatsoever. It is obvious that Republicanism itself will not right itself, not after collapsing completely into a cultism in which the Dear Leader of the moment can not only do no wrong, but that if he does do wrong, that thing is now retroactively right and good and was commonplace at all along.

So we know what must happen—but there seems no way to get there. None. It would require a great many very powerful Americans to all do the right thing, all at once, while sliding into kleptocratic pseudo-democracy requires no action at all and comes with substantial tax cuts.

Surely, it cannot be as hopeless as that. Surely.

Rudy Giuliani claims George Soros ‘controls’ ambassadors and FBI agents, decries plots against him

All right, let's talk about the new Rudy Giuliani profile in New York Magazine.

The big news out of it, of course, is that Donald Trump’s brilliant legal defender apparently did an entire interview with his fly unzipped. I kid: It's actually that the nation's top cybersecurity expert can't work Siri, leaves his phones unlocked and the screens in view as he goes about his day, and managed to accidentally leave one of those three phones in the hands of his interviewer at the end of the day. Ha, I'm kidding again. I'm a card.

No, it was his bit explaining that former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was secretly "controlled" by Jewish billionaire and pro-democracy advocate George Soros.

“He put all four ambassadors there. And he’s employing the FBI agents.” I told him he sounded crazy, but he insisted he wasn’t.

“Don’t tell me I’m anti-Semitic if I oppose him,” he said. “Soros is hardly a Jew. I’m more of a Jew than Soros is. I probably know more about — he doesn’t go to church, he doesn’t go to religion — synagogue. He doesn’t belong to a synagogue, he doesn’t support Israel, he’s an enemy of Israel. He’s elected eight anarchist DA’s in the United States. He’s a horrible human being.”

So somewhere along the line, the man the media dubbed "America's Mayor" turned into a pamphleteering neo-Nazi from the bowels of the internet, and nobody, not a one of us, is even remotely surprised.

What we get from the rest of Rudy's Day Off is a good picture of yet another someone in Trump's orbit who is so absolutely convinced of their own brilliance that they are eager, positively eager, to describe their master plans to anyone who will listen. Giuliani makes movie hero villains finally believable, as they diagram and flowchart their world domination schemes for the benefit of the recently captured and sure-to-escape-again hero. I am so beyond your understanding of the world, the man might burp over his second Bloody Mary, that your petty laws cannot contain me.

So we learn that he used one fallen-through deal to learn about Ukraine's money laundering system, in an effort to see if Hunter Biden could be tied to it. We get told that the prosecutors in the Southern District of New York are "assholes" and "idiots" and "a Trump-deranged bunch of silly New York Liberals" if they really are looking into whether he has been Doing Crimes. "I've been doing this for 50 years. I know how not to commit crimes," Rudy boasts. (Unless I am misremembering, I recall Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort had custom towels made with those printed sentiments.)

And we learn that he is not yet ready to cut loose from now-indicted Russian money-funnelers Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman because they may have been charged with crimes, but neither have been convicted of those crimes. "And that's generally my cutoff point." Because hey, you can’t throw a smartphone 10 feet, in Rudy’s circles, without hitting someone merely accused of international crimes.

Again, though, the majority of it is a man bragging about a brilliance so unstoppable that it doesn't matter if he tells you his next moves in advance or not. How to discredit the witness to the phone call between Donald Trump and Trump's ally Gordon Sondland: "How do we know he isn't a paranoid schizophrenic. How do we know he isn't an alcoholic?" How to get under the skin of witnesses in a theoretical Senate impeachment trial: "Biden, for example, is extraordinarily sensitive about his intellect."

The only thing that could stop him, Giuliani also seems far, far too eager to tell his interviewer, is the secret plotters against him. You know: everybody. Every last person who has been criticizing him, all in cahoots, all working together. They are all "anti-Trump" people; his once-friends are now conspirators against him, looking to discredit him and Dear Leader both, and behind a good chunk of it is George Soros, the bogeyman of the white supremacist who is right now claimed by every ragged racist in every corner of conservatism to be the controller behind everything from worldwide immigration patterns to, yes, the FBI.

At this point, it might behoove us to remember the words of mental health expert Dr. Bandy Lee, who warned of "a common phenomenon that happens when you are continually exposed to a severely compromised person without appropriate intervention. You start taking on the person’s symptoms in a phenomenon called 'shared psychosis.'"

Don't think of it necessarily in the context of Donald Trump, however. Think back farther than that. Think back to the Fox News programs that popularized the Soros conspiracies Rudy Giuliani is now basing his strategies, beliefs, and soon-to-be-defense around. The Glenn Beck days.

Yeah. That.