“A Recipe for Tyranny”
“The kind of presidency that Hamilton and others feared has arrived. It comes naturally to the demagogue, a core feature of his politics, to attempt to make on his own terms, and in his own interests… The demagogue may sell his version of change as critical to the nation’s welfare; his concern will be above all with his own.The response of Congress and the courts will determine not only Donald Trump’s political future, but also the shape of things to come long after he is gone.”
– Bob Bauer, “Pardons, Obstruction of Justice and the Rule of Law in the Demagogic Presidency”, Lawfare blog
The New York Times Saturday published a letter sent in January from Trump’s legal team to Robert Mueller. In it they argued, essentially, that the president is wholly above the law. That he has unlimited power to start or stop investigations for any reason and cannot, therefore, obstruct justice. Justice, in this argument, is whatever the president says it is or wants it to be. He may commit any crime because when he does it, in Nixon’s unforgettable words, “it is not illegal.” He may prosecute his enemies without justification and exonerate his minions of whatever crimes he puts them to. He is, effectively, a king.
This is a recipe for tyranny – precisely what our nation was founded to reject and what our founders sought to prevent. To those who have hesitated to say that Trump wants a dictatorship, here is the rejoinder: you are proven wrong. That is precisely what he both wants and demands. To those who think Mueller will come to our rescue and that we can sit back and wait: you do so at your grave peril, for while you wait, all may be lost.
The constitutional crisis is here, now.
“Should [Democrats] be hammering on President Trump's corruption, or homing in on those "kitchen table" issues like the economy and health care that voters always say they care about? Democrats can't seem to decide… but the best answer to the question of whether they should talk about Washington corruption or everyday concerns is: Yes.”
– Paul Waldman, “How Democrats Should Tackle Trump in the Midterms”, The Week
Whether Democrats are actually treating this as an either/or question is open to debate. It may be primarily a media narrative that’s more provocative to write about. But what to campaign on is still a worthwhile question and I think Waldman gets it exactly right. The defining character of the present is that we have an illicit, destructive regime that’s being directed by Trump virtually alone. It in turn is being supported by a supine Republican party and a right-wing propaganda machine actively dismantling the fact-based norms of journalism. None of this is remotely normal, nor should it be. It’s like a psychotic break for our society and it’s causing enormous, long-lasting damage.
We can’t, then, proceed as if we’re living in a normal world. Ignoring the transgressions of Trump and his enablers is effectively accepting them. We have to speak up. We must fight back. And yet what we’re fighting for is a return to normalcy. So, yes, in addition to fighting back, and promising to hold Trump and Republicans accountable for their corruption, venality and cruelty, Democrats also have to tell us what they stand for and what they’ll do. Fortunately, Trump’s actions actions are so extreme that they’re almost always the clear opposite of what’s right and good. His corruption points to its opposite, good governance. His self-serving, lying attacks on the FBI point to their opposite, upholding the rule of law, and so on. The kleptocratic dictatorship that Trump is imposing is the opposite of American democracy. Can you run against Trump and for decency, justice, compassion? In the end, like evil and good, they’re inseparable.
“The New Abnormal”
“Trump has declared the media the enemy of the people, and the media has responded with no fresh tactics. He is fighting a war that uses the media’s own rules against it, and he is winning in a landslide.”
– Tim Miller, “The Media’s Undeniable Pro-Trump Bias”, Crooked
Indivisible grew out of the insight that putting pressure on our Members of Congress can redirect their actions. We’ve had many successes, even as our country continues to slide into authoritarianism. But for those of us in blue districts and states, we’ve also found that our representatives, being in the minority, are limited in what they can prevent, much less achieve.
While legislative action is critical, there’s another function that we’re increasingly concerned with, which is the degree to which Democratic leaders get their voices heard and affect public discourse. Our messages aren’t getting through loudly or often enough, and the fault for some of this must surely lie with our leaders themselves. But it’s also true that the media hasn’t adapted to the Trump regime sufficiently. They continue to get played, reporting his lies as news, setting a far lower bar for his misbehavior than has ever been true for other presidents, losing track of important stories as soon as a newer and shinier distraction comes along. Surely part of our work also needs to be holding the press to account. As much as we rely on them to break important stories, we also need them not to treat Trump as merely another president or his spokespeople as credible sources.
In Other News
- Also in the letter Trump’s attorneys sent to Mueller was the admission that Trump had indeed dictated the letter that attempted to cover up the truth about the infamous Trump Tower meeting in June of 2016, where Donald Trump, Jr eagerly sought “dirt” on the Clinton campaign from agents of the Russian government. Trump’s lawyers had denied no less than five times before that he had any involvement in drafting the letter. Their new statement is another clear example of obstruction of justice. And, no, the president isn’t above the law. He can obstruct justice and this one has.
- The New England Journal of Medicine reported that new estimates of the death toll in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria were in excess of 4,600. Trump had bragged that the number was 16. Then he ignored the island and let thousands die. To put this in context, about 3,000 people died in the 9/11 attacks, about 1,800 in Hurricane Katrina. The deaths in Puerto Rico were a direct result of Trump’s negligence and incompetence.
- Children continued to be ripped from the arms of their parents at the border, as part of Jeff Sessions’s “zero tolerance” policy. Here’s an example: “According to a recent story in the Houston Chronicle, children as young as 18 months have been deported without their parents. A woman whose husband was killed by gangs in El Salvador saw her 13-year-old son taken away at the US border – and officials refused to tell her where they were holding him.” We mustn’t turn away from this inhuman outrage, nor can we remain silent. This must stop.
- Trump pardoned conservative troll and felon Dinesh D’Souza, convicted of campaign finance violations. Trump is flexing his pardon muscle to send a signal to other probable criminals, like Cohen and Manafort, that they need not worry. He is the demagogue our founders were concerned to prevent.
- Trump’s trade war is back, with disastrous escalation a serious risk. Did you ever think it was really gone?
- Falsely claiming a risk to national security, Trump ordered regulations to bail out coal and nuclear energy plants. The plan interferes with market incentives to prop up failing industries, raise prices and increase pollution and global warming. What’s not to like?
- Where is Melania? It’s been over three weeks since she disappeared, ostensibly for a benign kidney procedure that nevertheless landed her in the hospital for five days. Since then Trump has pointed to an empty window, saying, “Look! She’s right there!” and has used her phone to pretend that she was sending a tweet (the language was transparently his). So what are they hiding? And why doesn’t the press want to know?
Our “jungle primary” here in California puts the top two vote getters on the ballot, regardless of their party affiliation. This year, that’s dangerous for Dems because we have so many candidates running in several key House districts – particularly 39, 48 and 49. The problem is that if they split the vote, we could end up with two Republicans on the ticket. The solution? Turn out as many Democratic voters as we possibly can. If you have Dem friends or family in those districts, make sure they VOTE this Tuesday, June 5th! Even better, if you can pitch in on Tuesday, we need help phone banking from home. We need to be running in every district to flip the House blue!
– Tom Benthin
A reminder: a key resource for tracking all the abnormal events from the past week of the Trump presidency is Amy Siskind’s Weekly List: theweeklylist.org .
Before the disaster of the 2016 election we could follow the events that affected our lives by checking the news or seeing occasional posts on Facebook. Since then, with Trump’s erratic, aggressive and autocratic behavior and the Republicans’ unceasing attacks on our government and their efforts to transfer ever more money from working Americans to the rich, it has become much more difficult – and more important – to find our way through the weekly onslaught of news. To get ourselves grounded in the facts and to prepare for the week of action ahead, we provide this weekly summary of critical events to help us cut through the distractions and stay focused and informed as we fight to preserve our democracy.