A Texas-sized Catch-22

A Texas-sized Catch-22

There’s a line that – if I recall correctly – is only in the film version of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and not in the book.  It is, nevertheless, one of the most important verities associated with Heller’s verity-filled work: “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.” (My fellow Gen-Xers may recall that Kurt Cobain repurposed the line in Nirvana’s “Territorial Pissings”).

This is, of course, an important truth for those in the closely related fields of politics and organized crime to remember.  That’s why, in The Godfather II Michael Corleone told Frankie “Five Angels” Pentangeli that his father taught him (“right here, in this very room”) the old Sun-Tzu aphorism, “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”  When you’re a politician (or the head of one of the Five Families), irrespective of your personal disposition, there’s a good chance that someone (or several someones) is out to get you.  So…pay attention!

There is a corollary to this truism that applies to voters as well.  It’s not quite the opposite, but it’s close: just because they’re after him (or her) doesn’t mean it’s only politics.  Or to put it more clearly: yes, in politics “they” are after everyone (and especially everyone with an (R) after his name).  But sometimes they’re after him for good cause.

The reason we bring this up today is the case of currently suspended Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.  Paxton – a staunch and popular Republican – has been impeached by the Texas House and is set to face trial in the Texas Senate in late August.  Despite the fact that he faces 20 impeachment counts that were filed by a Republican majority committee and approved by a Republican-majority House, Paxton calls the whole mess a “politically motivated sham.”  More to the point, many conservatives and Republicans inside and outside of Texas – including former President Donald Trump – have concurred, insisting that Paxton’s impeachment is a political vendetta being waged by Dade Phelan, the Republican Speaker of the Texas House, whom Paxton accused of drinking on the job:

Former President Donald Trump on Saturday gave his full backing to Ken Paxton as the Texas attorney general faced historic impeachment proceedings led by state Republicans.

Trump took to Truth Social to praise the embattled attorney general and condemn both “Radical Left Democrats” and “RINOS” alike.

“I love Texas, won it twice in landslides, and watched as many other friends, including Ken Paxton, came along with me,” Trump wrote. “Hopefully Republicans in the Texas House will agree that this is a very unfair process that should not be allowed to happen or proceed—I will fight you if it does.”…

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) also expressed support for Paxton, calling the impeachment proceedings a “travesty” in a series of Tweets Saturday.

“No attorney general has battled the abuses of the Biden admin more ferociously—and more effectively—than has Paxton,” Cruz wrote. “That’s why the swamp in Austin wants him out. The special interests don’t want a steadfast conservative AG. I understand that people are concerned about Ken’s legal challenges. But the courts should sort them out.”

Now, we’ll be blunt: we have no idea what to think about any of this.  The case against Paxton is pretty appalling (in a Bill Clinton sort of way).  And we have no desire to excuse actual corruption by a public official, regardless of how well he may align with us politically.  At the same time, though, Ted Cruz’s defense of Paxton gives us pause.  We generally like Ted Cruz and trust his instincts.  And Cruz is not alone.  Other people we generally like and trust have said publicly that they believe Paxton is being railroaded.  So…needless to say, we’re a bit confused.

And that’s exactly the point.

For the entirety of the last eight years, we have all been told, over and over and over again, that ALL of Donald Trump’s problems are the result of the fact that the “establishment” hates him and is out to get him.  At times, this has seemed not merely plausible or likely but indisputable.  Trump HAS been repeatedly and, frankly, unprecedentedly maligned and disparaged by the media, political, and entertainment establishments, who loath him and his outsider’s approach to politics.  This is simply inarguable.  At other times, however, this claim has been patently UNtrue.  Everyone knows who Trump is and what he’s done, and a great many of his problems were the result of efforts made by one billionaire and one billionaire alone, Donald J. Trump.

The conflation and confusion here are intentional.  They are part of a conscious plan to convince voters of two things: Trump is on their side, and the establishment is not.  Therefore, Trump is worth defending and preserving no matter the veracity of the accusations against him.  Whether he did it or not, he’s with you while they’re not.  How hard is it to choose?

So far, this scheme has been a brilliant bit of political strategy.  Anyone else in Trump’s position would be abandoned and forgotten like yesterday’s news.  But by making this a fight about “teams” and “sides” (friends and enemies, you might say) Trump has managed to maintain his political viability.  It’s actually been quite remarkable to witness.

The problem is that this strategy has made casualties of both reality and clear thinking.  It is tempting simply to side with one’s “team” in every circumstance, regardless of the accusations.  “If they’d do it to Trump, why wouldn’t they do it to Paxton?”  And to be honest, they would do it to Paxton.  The question now, though, is whether or not they did.

The whole thing is a mess, in large part because our politics, in general, is a mess.  It’s also a mess  because we know that “they” – that is to say, the “ruling class” – are, indeed, out to get politicians that oppose them.

But just because they are out to get politicians who oppose them doesn’t mean they don’t have a legitimate reason.

Stephen Soukup
Stephen Soukup
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Steve Soukup is the Vice President and Publisher of The Political Forum, an “independent research provider” that delivers research and consulting services to the institutional investment community, with an emphasis on economic, social, political, and geopolitical events that are likely to have an impact on the financial markets in the United States and abroad.