Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Apprentice Dictator's Progress

Update: Wednesday's Washington Post: "The special counsel overseeing the investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election is interviewing senior intelligence officials as part of a widening probe that now includes an examination of whether President Trump attempted to obstruct justice, officials said.

The move by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III to investigate Trump’s conduct marks a major turning point in the nearly year-old FBI investigation, which until recently focused on Russian meddling during the presidential campaign and on whether there was any coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Investigators have also been looking for any evidence of possible financial crimes among Trump associates, officials said....The obstruction-of-justice investigation of the president began days after Comey was fired on May 9, according to people familiar with the matter."

He was off to an absolutely blitzkrieging good start, destroying (and purporting to destroy) policies and regulations that were almost always carefully crafted as the result of long processes of expert investigation and report, debate among affected parties and often with public discussion, working towards a final product that addressed the problem in a way that most involved could at least live with, and most could view with pride.  His administration is still doing this.  Update: And doing this--almost always serving a corporate interest's creepy behavior. 

He attacked the budgets of departments and bureaus in which mostly decent and often knowledgeable public servants had devoted their working lives to fulfill their mandates and serve the people.  He slashed at every environmental regulation in sight, and served his fossil fuel masters by ignoring the climate crisis and other realities.  He urged congressional Rs to concoct in secret and pass in bullying fashion a cruel and spiteful healthcare bill, one of many acts that are already creating untold suffering, while the Senate tries to finish the job while hiding in the darkness.

Though many of his actions would be symbolic, his minions carried out others that will damage the country for years and generations.  And he did it with no justification other than he, the apprentice dictator, said so.

But then came his most blatant dictatorial acts--especially firing the acting Attorney General, all the federal Attorneys in all the states, and then the FBI director.  To some he gave no reasons, weak reasons or several reasons. But basically his rationale was that he wanted to.  Because he has that absolute power.

Late in the day on Monday an observation by a presidential pal on the PBS News Hour of all places sent shock waves through the media and political Washington: he was considering firing the special counsel Robert Mueller investigating the Russian interference in US elections, including all attempts to interfere with the investigation itself (such as, maybe, firing the FBI Director.)

There were two main themes to the media discussion: First, that as politically crazy as this would be, he just might do it.  Second, he can't do it directly but only through a messy process that would likely see more casualties in the Justice Department than even Nixon's Saturday Night Massacre caused.

It took well over 24 hours and several non-denial denials (as well as a sourced NY Times story confirming that he has been contemplating this action) before the White House gave an actual answer.  According to his spokesperson, it was:      that "while the president has the right to" fire Robert Mueller, "he has no intention to do so."

Apart from the dubious grammar, the statement speaks volumes.  Despite his own Deputy AG (who is in charge of overseeing the investigation, and who appointed Mueller) saying earlier Tuesday that only he can fire Mueller, that according to his mandate he must have good cause, and without good cause he would not obey an order to fire him, our dictator apprentice is asserting the absolute right to fire the guy investigating his campaign and probably him.

On the firing and the context, I can do no better than refer to this column by Jonathan Chiat.  He believes that eventually he will try to fire Mueller, first because he is probably guilty of a lot, and second, because nobody has stopped him so far.  Chiat:

"Trump is almost characterologically bound to test the limits of the system until he finally goes so far he cannot go any further. Firing the special prosecutor is the next unthinkable step before him, very much like all the other unthinkable steps he has already taken."

That's where we are in the apprentice dictator's progress.  A lot of people in Washington, in the media, in the country and around the world are onto him:  they know he is a shameless, know-nothing egomaniac authoritarian liar and thief who demeans the presidency relentlessly every day, who is in it for money as well as power, even as he functions as the chump of the moneybags he and his party serve.

A lot of people know that. They know he is dangerous to the country, and is lawless.  But nobody seems to know what to do about it.  And nobody so far has come up with anything to stop him.

Nobody has ever seen anything like him in this country.  Laws, rules, even the Constitution did not fully anticipate him.  The unwritten rules that everyone accepts have no defense against him.  From the beginning, Chiat observes,"Trump has endlessly violated a series of norms that appeared to be inviolable."

He's gotten away with it all.  So far.  And the federal investigation headed by the special counsel is only one ongoing process to hold him accountable.  As of Tuesday there are now three separate and serious law suits charging that he has (in the words of the New York Times story, the definitive one so far) "accusing President Trump of violating the Constitution by profiting from business dealings with foreign governments."  

The latest is by 200 members of Congress.  Another is by the AGs of Maryland and DC, and another by competitors in the hotel industry.  If any or all of them are given the go-ahead by a judge, it can mean that the family's business finances--and tax returns--will be subpoenaed.

This profiteering is another activity that is so blatant and ongoing that nobody seems to know how else to confront it.  Also on Tuesday, the NY Times business section had a story headlined  Trump Adds More Trademarks in China.

But while such efforts slowly unfold, and amazing headlines assault us nearly every day (along with equally astonishing stories that don't make the headline cut, like Trump’s Personal Lawyer Boasted That He Got [NY US Attorney] Preet Bharara Fired because he told Trump Bharara was out to get him.)

Meanwhile, the apprentice dictator continues progressing towards full dictator status, sometimes in audaciously sad and ridiculous ways, as in a Cabinet meeting unlike any in American history, he received fealty, praise and expressions of loyalty by those "blessed" to serve him.

But as cartoon Mussolini-like as this appears, it is of a piece with his dangerous destructiveness.   As Chiat observes: "His need for deference and flattery is abnormal by the standards of either human beings in general or non-dictator politicians in particular. Trump is an instinctive authoritarian; the existence of an independent law enforcement system beyond his control is intolerable to him."

Another bad/good sign is that his best chosen instrument for oppression, head of Homeland Security John Kelly, is being called out:

"John Kelly’s sterling reputation as a Marine general with an appreciation for nuance led many Democrats to back his nomination as Homeland Security secretary in the hope that he would rein in President Donald Trump’s hard-line immigration and security policies.

Instead, Kelly has moved to impose those policies with military rigor. He has pursued an aggressive deportation campaign; defended Trump’s effort to ban visitors from several Muslim-majority countries; and hinted that he might separate migrant parents from their children at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Kelly has joked with Trump about using violence against reporters and defended Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, amid allegations that he tried to set up a secret back channel to the Russian government.

Today, it’s tough to find anyone on the left willing to defend Kelly. He has alienated potential allies on Capitol Hill, including Democrats who voted to confirm him, and is endangering his reputation as a nonpartisan figure in a presidential administration that has relatively few."

But again, no one is actually stopping him.  And he's in position to do even worse when called upon.

So where does that leave us?  Greg Sergeant's Morning Plum in the Washington Post on Monday began:

"Are Republicans prepared for the possibility that President Trump’s abuses of power could continue their slide to depths of madness or autocracy that make the current moment look relatively tame by comparison? This isn’t meant as a rhetorical question. It is genuinely unclear — from the public statements of Republicans and the reporting on their private deliberations — whether they envision a point at which Trump’s conduct could grow unhinged enough, or threaten serious enough damage to our democracy, to warrant meaningful acknowledgment, never mind action."

In other words, we know what creek we're up.  If there's a paddle, nobody's found it yet.

No comments: