Cynicism Brings Us to Vel Exitium Imperio


The other day, I noted how “quid pro quo” has gone from the marker of an out-of-touch President George H.W. Bush to a nifty phrase that everybody should understand with reference to President Donald Trump.  A political cartoon by Robert Ariail illustrates the point even more directly.

It shows an obese bald guy (apparently the cartoonist’s image of the typical American) sleeping while the TV repeats the phrase, “Quid pro quo!”  Then a donkey representing the Democrat party leans out of the TV and explains, “That’s bribery, stupid!”

So, let me revise.  We’ve gone from the phrase being marker of Bush’s elitism to its being a critical terminology that stupid Americans need to wake up and understand.

This seems pretty typical of discourse these days.  Everything is contingent.  Everything depends on how it affects one’s tribe.  Some of the back and forth I’ve engaged in on Twitter over the past couple days illustrates how this is accomplished and how important it is becoming for everybody to take a step back and let political processes work.  Here’s the key thread:

Mike Stenhouse: Again, today’s
@projo blares a mis-leading headline about the hearings in DC. The witness, on multiple occasions, clearly said there was NO quid pro quo on the key issue, but the media move the goal post again to conflate and headline a minor & insignificant issue. #FakeNewsRI

Pablo Rodriguez, MD: “Was there a “quid pro quo?” As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes. “ Sondland opening statement. Did you miss that part?

Justin Katz: So the meeting was a “quid” for the “quo” of the promise of “a fully transparent investigation” into Ukrainian meddling in an American election and corruption?  The implications are amazing here. Is it now illegal to officially investigate political opponents’ corruption because it might be politically beneficial? Folks, that’s how this system is supposed to work!

renure: Trump pressured the Ukrainian president to investigate a political rival and his son. That is a violation of federal election law and an impeachable offense or Conditioning aid on a personal vendetta, on trashing a political rival, is another. Trump does not have the right to deploy the resources of the government — especially with a foreign leader — for his personal political ends. And finally; a quid pro quo: If you don’t investigate Biden, you don’t get our money. That is implicit in the July 25 conversation, and explicit, perhaps through the statements of Trump’s agents. The crime is extortion, and plainly impeachable. – Nancy Gertner Rtd US District Ct Judge

Katz: I disagree for a number of reasons, but I’ll stick to two that have to do with categorical proclamations that I suspect you’re using in order to capture a president you don’t like in a category of crime within the reach of semantics. 1st, the president manifestly does have the right to deploy the resources of government to for the interests of his country, which ought to be in his political interest to do. You’re disputing the national interest in discovering the Obama admin’s corruption, but that’s mere political & convenient judgment on your part, which is evident in the fact that you don’t care that Biden has admitted doing exactly what you accuse Trump of doing. 2nd, your application of “extortion” is so absurdly broad that it would include any trade or negotiation with other countries. U.S. aid is not an entitlement of other countries and can surely be conditioned on national interests, which (again) is political judgment.

Rodriguez: I am willing to accept all of your arguments except that Trump is a white knight against corruption, and the only corruption he’s found in the whole world is Burisma and Crowdstrike. This was about getting dirt on his rival. Read the transcript.

Katz: I’m not presenting Trump as a white knight. I’m presenting our political system as one in which incentives support the national interest despite the questionable motives of everybody involved, & criminalizing voters’ choice, as is being done with Trump, will destroy that system.

Rodriguez has gone on to minimize impeachment as simply a process to review any suspicion in which “the absence of any exculpatory testimony” necessarily sends it on to the Senate for trial.  This is foolish, not the least because then impeachment would be a regular feature of government.

We should all be concerned about the sliding scales, here.  In past decades, both sides of the political aisle would have recognized the danger of setting this as the standard for a nation-dividing political fight that ensured no president ever had running room actually to govern.  But these days have brought another phrase into increasing use, to describe the Left’s attitude toward politics:  rule or ruin.  If the Internet is to believe, the Latin for that would be vel exitium imperio.

  • bagida’wewinini

    Katz: I’m not presenting Trump as a white knight. I’m presenting our political system as one in which incentives support the national interest despite the questionable motives of everybody involved, & criminalizing voters’ choice, as is being done with Trump, will destroy that system.

    Correct me if I’m wrong if i interpret what you write in the second sentence as meaning that conditioning a coveted meeting and military aid are actually meant to incentivize the Ukrainians to open investigations into corruption at Burisma and the Ukrainian role in meddling in the 2016 US Presidential election and that it is all right as long as our national interest is served regardless of the personal motives of President Trump. Would you think differently if the national interest was not only not being served, but instead being degraded, as Fiona Hill an expert on Russia asserted under oath on the last day of public hearings

    • Justin Katz

      Voters elected President Trump to determine what the national interest is and will decide whether he’s been making good decisions in that regard next November. The whole argument about investigating Biden’s corruption is that bringing it into the light will affect voters’ opinions for the election. That is a prima facie acknowledgment that the voters agree it is in the national interest. The fact that voters would be likely to reward President Trump for exposing the corruption by reelecting him is, itself, proof that they agree on the significance of the matter.

      Of course, there are lines, here. If an elected official uses his or her public office to benefit himself or his family in a way outside of the electoral process — as Biden appears to have acknowledged having done in Ukraine — that would cross the line. Alternately, if elected officials use their offices to dig up dirt on actions that their opponents have taken as private citizens (i.e., not as public officials, themselves) — as it increasingly appears President Obama did — that would also cross a line.