Thursday, June 7, 2018

Will King Donald's demagoguery be the death of democracy?

AZBlueMeanie at Blog for Arizona foresees an imminent constitutional crisis in The madness of King Donald and a worst case scenario, a terribly frightening vision of what the mad king might visit upon our nation.

Most legal observers believe that Robert Mueller is fast approaching a showdown with President Trump in his investigation. Trump believes that he can fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, shut down the Special Counsel’s investigation, and issue blanket pardons to everyone, including himself. Trump believes that the feckless Republican controlled Congress will enable his power grab by abdicating its constitutional duty to hold him accountable by impeachment. He seems to be correct in his assessment of this supine Republican Congress. We are on the precipice of a constitutional crisis.

The Blue Meanie points us to this story at salon.com:What comes next in Trump’s big power-grab: How close is he to staging a coup?. If Trump purges the Justice Department and seizes “emergency” powers, will his fans stand by him? Don’t even ask.

If you’ve been tracking the news during the past week, you know that both Trump and his legal advisors have declared that Trump cannot be guilty of obstruction, cannot be prosecuted for any crime, is above the law, can pardon anyone including himself, and has absolute power - “unfettered authority” over our institutions of justice. One of those advisors, Rudy Giuliani, sent so far as to assert that Trump could shoot a federal official without consequences. Even for murder, this line of thinking goes, the president is above the law.

Here are my snippets from the Salon piece,

To suggest everything will be just fine because bad times have always worked themselves out in America – that if we just hold our breath and hang tight, justice will be served and the wheels of democracy will keep on spinning as before – is supremely foolish thinking. Here’s why.

… Trump believes he controls the entirety of federal law enforcement and therefore isn’t beholden to it. So he can’t obstruct an investigation in which he’s technically both a subject and the chief investigator, per Article II of the Constitution. Likewise, Trump maintains that he can fire anyone serving in the executive branch, including the FBI director or, yes, the Justice Department special counsel currently investigating him. Specifically, the letter states: “[Trump] could, if he wished, terminate the inquiry, or even exercise his power to pardon if he so desired.”

I take the “terminate the inquiry” line to mean Trump is asserting that if the special counsel’s investigation steps over a particular (if unspecified) line, Trump could start firing people, from Attorney General Jeff Sessions on down, certainly including Robert Mueller. But that’s merely a near-term concern.

Let’s not forget that Trump has relentlessly repeated for at least a year now that the Russia investigation is a “witch hunt,” with the not-so-subtle subtext being that the Justice Department, including the FBI, is filled with criminal traitors engaged in a coup d’├ętat against the entire Trump regime. The “deep state” conspiracy theory, it’s called. While those of us on the normal side of the ledger know it’s all nonsense, pro-Trump trolls and loyalists like Kurt Schlichter and Franklin Graham, among many others, believe – or at least claim to believe – that the deep state is in the midst of a coup against the president. Worse, it’s not out of bounds to assume that most of Trump’s base, which currently hovers at around 44 percent of American voters, agree with the coup theory.

This is psychological projection on a national scale. The assertion of absolute power by a president is the true coup against American democracy, but the Trumpists are making the bogus claim of a coup by someone else. And they flood the airwaves with that nonsense.

If Trump’s base is firm, then 44 percent of American voters, give or take, might be willing to go along with the president if he retaliates against the (fictitious) coup by clearing house at the DOJ. The base would perceive this as in itself a form of justice being served, when the true goal would be to kill off the Russia investigation and, by extension, the investigation into Trump’s fixer Michael Cohen by federal prosecutors in New York. Furthermore, it’s not utterly unimaginable that Trump could use his commander-in-chief powers to order the arrest of Justice Department officials who, as the White House and Fox News would repeatedly allege, were participants in the coup.

Trump’s Red Hat loyalists don’t realize that unless their cartoon dictator decides to retain the presidency for life (who or what can stop him, should law enforcement be subjugated beneath him?) there will be other presidents, some of them Democrats, who could sashay right through some of the gaping loopholes created or exploited by Trump’s maneuvers. Not unlike Trump himself, his fans don’t see the long view: There are catastrophically damaging repercussions to Trump’s self-interested decisions. If Trump tried to grant himself Putin-like authority, the 44-percenters would insist that he’s simply making America great again. With this degree of popular support, Trump is this close to doing whatever the hell he wants.

The Republican Party, meanwhile, which rose to power after Watergate by taking a long-term, strategic approach to gaining electoral majorities, is guided today by transactional, nearsighted thinking. Trump’s “eternal now” mindset rules the party, to the great detriment of both American democracy and the future of the GOP itself. Indeed, as Trump consolidates his power, congressional Republicans will be rightfully viewed by history as impotent and irresponsible, lapsing into political torpor while the leader of their party seizes broader control over its elected officials and the people.

Sure, there are a few members of Congress who speak out against Trump’s claims of unfettered authority. For example, Paul Ryan. Here’s a short one from the NY Times - Speaker Ryan Dismisses Trump’s Charges of a Spy in His Campaign.

Speaker Paul D. Ryan agreed on Wednesday that the F.B.I. did nothing wrong by using a confidential informant to contact members of the Trump campaign as it investigated its ties to Russia, contradicting President Trump’s assertions of a broad conspiracy by federal law enforcement.

And he warned that Mr. Trump should not try to pardon himself, despite Mr. Trump’s assertion two days earlier that the president has the power to take such a step.

“I don’t know the technical answer to that question, but I think obviously the answer is he shouldn’t,” Mr. Ryan told reporters. “And no one is above the law.”

… Mr. Ryan backed Representative Trey Gowdy, Republican of South Carolina … “Chairman Gowdy’s initial assessment is accurate, but we have more digging to do,” Mr. Ryan told reporters at a news conference on Wednesday. Mr. Gowdy is a former federal prosecutor, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee and one of House Republicans’ most experienced investigators.

And over at the Senate:

Mr. Ryan’s warning on a “self-pardon” reflected other Republican concerns. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, cast the issue of Mr. Trump pardoning himself in similar terms on Tuesday.

“He obviously knows that would not be something that he would or should do,” Mr. McConnell said.

All that strikes me as a rather luke-warm response to Trump and his minions. We have here three - 3! - out of 538 speaking out against Trump’s presumption of total power.

The Salon.com essay wraps up:

We’re closer than ever before to a president seizing unparalleled non-wartime authority. … The most incompetent, most corrupt and most damaging president in history – a president with zero expertise in constitutional law or political tradition – believes he has greater powers than all previous chief executives. It’s in writing now, visible in the public domain, and it enjoys the fist-pumping enthusiasm of way too many citizens. This is harrowing.

And AZBlueMeanie puts the implied alternative future bluntly.

Americans will soon be confronted with “a time for choosing”: do you stand with the authoritarian crypto-fascist white nationalist Trump as your “Dear Leader” autocrat and mark the end of the American experiment? Or will you take a stand to defend our American democracy and the Constitution, and the generations of Americans who have fought and died to preserve it?

This epic contest will pit neighbor against neighbor and brother against brother, just as the American Civil War did. Whose side will you choose?

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