L’etat C’est Nous

Democrats have been threatening Donald Trump with impeachment from practically the moment he won the election, after all the “decent” people in the world had worked together to make sure he lost. Brits like Christopher Steele, the Russian officials who gave Steele bogus claims, and the American diplomats, security officials, and politicians who fed that dossier and the fact of the investigations they ginned up in response to right-thinking journalists, worked together to swing the election to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. When their efforts failed, they set their sights on crippling Trump’s presidency, driving him from office, and ruining his family.

But if you thought Trump faced hostility from our betters before, the furor around his conversation with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine shows that they have only begun to fight.

What has most enraged them about that conversation was that Trump asked Zelensky to look into corruption allegations involving former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. Hunter Biden joined the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings shortly after Biden took a leading role in U.S. policy toward Ukraine. Burisma paid Hunter Biden $3.1 million in directors’ fees. While Hunter was on the board, Vice President Biden, as he boasted in a 2018 speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, got the Ukranian prosecutor looking into Burisma’s alleged corruption fired.

You might think that it was a key part of the president’s job—charged as he is with the conduct of U.S. foreign relations and overseeing federal law enforcement—to investigate, and, where necessary punish, U.S. officials alleged to be influenced in their actions by corrupt foreign ties.

Yet Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said that Trump’s request was “deeply troubling.” Former Massachusetts Governor and U.S. Attorney Bill Weld, who thinks he is running against Trump for the Republican presidential nomination, called Trump’s request from Zelensky, “treason,” and stated, falsely, that under U.S. law “the only penalty for treason is death.” 

Weld’s claim seems so obviously deranged that a charitable person might attribute it to literal mental illness brought on by Trump Derangement Syndrome combined, perhaps, with senility. But a somewhat deeper knowledge of the players offers less basis for charity.

Another board member at Burisma is Cofer Black, a former national security advisor to the Romney campaign. Hunter Biden runs a private equity firm with Chris Heinz, stepson of former Secretary of State John Kerry. In investing in China, Biden and Heinz worked with James Bulger, son of former Massachusetts Senate President William Bulger, a key Democratic ally of Weld in his days as governor, and nephew and namesake of gangster James “Whitey” Bulger. Whitey Bulger was protected for decades as an FBI informant as he extended his criminal empire in Boston, with the help of a series of U.S. officials including William Weld and Robert Mueller.

For Weld, Trump’s inquiries are not the legitimate exercise of a president’s core duties, they are a betrayal of the country. But whose country?

Weld’s response to Trump shows all the rage of a family man, and Weld is a man of a proud and ancient family, attacked in his property and substance. And indeed, for the few—for the very few—the last few decades have been marvelous.

Since 1992, we have seen a collapse of American primacy on the world stage and the creation of a gig economy which, until the Trump boom that began in November 2016, offered little hope of a family wage to young middle and working-class Americans. But for the Bidens, the Bulgers (apart from Whitey, murdered in jail following years of a comfortable underground existence after he fled prosecution when tipped off by FBI agents), the Romneys, the Welds, the Kerrys and Heinzes, and their courtiers and lackeys, the decades after the Cold War ended have been enriching indeed.

After decades of paying off politicians to enable him to build a global brand, Donald Trump decided that it was time to do something that made everything he had accomplished seem “very insignificant”: to make public policy for the benefit of the many rather than the few. When the Gracchi brothers attempted a similar restoration of Republican greatness in ancient Rome by redistributing lands to those who had fought in the ranks of the legions, the senators who had appropriated to themselves and their families the fruits of Roman success, had them murdered.

For treason by a populist leader against the political connections that are the most valuable property of our ruling class, Weld assures us with the authority of a summa cum laude graduate of the Harvard Classics department, death is the only penalty.

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About Michael S. Kochin

Michael S. Kochin is Professor Extraordinarius in the School of Political Science, Government, and International Relations at Tel Aviv University. He received his A.B. in mathematics from Harvard and his M.A. and Ph.D. in political science from the University of Chicago. He has held visiting appointments at Yale, Princeton, Toronto, Claremont McKenna College, and the Catholic University of America. He has written widely on the comparative analysis of institutions, political thought, politics and literature, and political rhetoric. With the historian Michael Taylor he has written An Independent Empire: Diplomacy & War in the Making of the United States (University of Michigan Press, 2020).

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