Now that he has a State of the Union speech with a 75 percent approval rate under his belt, President Trump can move forward with his plans to really take over, according to a story the day after the speech.
“Until very recently – as in, yesterday – a plausible argument could be made that Donald Trump’s authoritarianism was entirely aspirational,” wrote Jonathan Chait for The Atlantic. “However deeply he yearned to rule with an iron fist, he was too bumbling, too lazy, too distractible and childlike to actually carry out his plans.”
He’s so haphazard and incompetent it’s difficult for him to undermine the system, Chait says, citing Yascha Mounk, whose website claims he is “one of the world’s leading experts on the crisis of liberal democracy and the rise of populism.”
But things have changed since Trump seemed to have broken through with his speech, which 80 percent said showed he was trying to unite the country.
Trump, most of his allies in the media and Congress say he has the right to fire the FBI director for any reason, which appears to be what the law says. But although the special counsel investigating Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey has kept his job, the “FBI pushed out its deputy director after Trump had subjected him and his wife to verbal abuse in public and private, and demanded his ouster,” Chait wrote.
“Meanwhile, the House of Representatives voted to publicize a Republican-authored memo designed to discredit the FBI, while not allowing the publication of a Democratic response.”
At the time Chait wrote this, the Republicans were refusing to release the Democratic response because the Democrats had not allowed them to see it first. Republicans did show not only the Democrats on the committee but every member of the House their memo.
But there’s more. House Speaker Paul Ryan said of the FBI there was a need to “cleanse the organization.” And the president is, according to Howard Fineman, the veteran Washington newsman, “talking to friends about the possibility of asking Attorney General Jeff Sessions to consider prosecuting Mueller and his team.
“’Here’s how it works,’” Chait claims a Trump adviser told him. “We’re sorry, Mr. Mueller, you won’t be able to run the federal grand jury today because he has to go testify to another federal grand jury.’”
And this, Chait says, is no more “absurd or far-fetched” than the House Republicans’ “secret memo to discredit Mueller, Comey, and any officials who pose a threat to Trump and his inner circle.” The memo’s assumptions are “preposterous” and served up only to “confound Mueller, Rod Rosenstein, James Comey and others with spurious legal accusations that would paralyze their ability to investigate the president.”
Republicans’ failure to turn en masse against their increasingly popular president “must also be understood within the context of the authoritarian sentiment that has become the norm in conservative discourse.”
Chait said Kellyanne Conway threw an antagonistic and clearly ridiculous question about whether Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election against the media, saying, “Everybody who said Donald Trump couldn’t win … every anchor, every pundit who said, ‘This is over, it’s a joke, he can’t win, he can’t govern’ tried to interfere in the election.” To Chait, that amounts to Conway saying political punditry hostile to Trump is “no more legitimate than Russian intelligence agents stealing Democratic files.”
Of course, there is plenty of proof Democrats and the media did everything they could think of to undermine Trump’s candidacy, transition and early term, and there is no evidence Russian intelligence agents stole Democratic files.
But the kicker came when Chait addressed someone mocking the idea Trump’s FBI purge poses a threat to democracy by saying we had a democracy long before we had an FBI.
“It’s true – democracy did exist before the FBI,” he wrote. “On the other hand, the establishment of a national police force was a powerful weapon in the hands of an unscrupulous president. Without strong restraint, it could be turned into a weapon to smear the president’s opponents with overblown charges of criminality, and to protect the president and his allies from legal accountability.”