Trump’s Attack On Democracy

While Donald Trump claims to be the “law and order” president, he has broken the law and breached the U.S. Constitution more than a few times, especially last week in Portland, Oregon. Charles French provides us with a chilling assessment of where this could lead. Thank you, Charles, for this excellent post, and your generous permission to share it with my readers.

charles french words reading and writing

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What happened the other night in Portland, Oregon should have all Americans who believe in the Constitution, Freedom, and Democracy outraged and frightened. Please do not divert the subject by speaking about “riots”. That is an issue that is addressed by local and state authorities, not the Federal Government.  The President does not seem to care about the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.

The Fourth Amendment says, “The right of the people to  be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Having Federal agents, wearing police insignia without identification of person or office arresting people without warrants and taking…

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Words Of Wisdom

This OpEd by Noah Bookbinder in the New York Times is an important … nay, a critical read.  The fear that is overtaking this nation as a result of the pandemic cannot blind us to what is being done to our very structure of government, for that is exactly what Trump is hoping for.  Please take a minute to read Mr. Bookbinder’s very important words.

Trump Is Gutting Our Democracy While We’re Dealing with Coronavirus

The president’s firing of the intelligence watchdog who validated the Ukraine whistle-blower complaint is his latest threat to the rule of law.

By Noah Bookbinder

Mr. Bookbinder is the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

When President Trump announced late Friday that he would fire the government watchdog who told Congress about the Ukraine whistle-blower complaint, which ultimately led to his impeachment, it touched off one of the most acute threats yet to our democracy. But it didn’t even make the front page of most papers.

That’s understandable. Thousands of Americans are dying every day from the terrifying coronavirus pandemic. People are worried about their own safety and that of their families, as well as about their jobs and livelihood. Questions abound about how the crisis got to this point, whether the Trump administration took appropriate steps to address it, and what steps are needed to minimize the devastation going forward; there is little bandwidth for anything else.

But we can’t afford to ignore the anti-democratic steps the president is taking while the American people are appropriately preoccupied with this outbreak. If we don’t respond to these outrageous abuses now, the damage may be done by the time anyone is the wiser.

The worst of the president’s latest round of steps to undermine checks and balances came not just in this time of crisis, but on a Friday night, the classic black hole for sweeping problematic actions in Washington under the rug.

First, the president announced that he would be firing Michael Atkinson, the inspector general for the intelligence community. Mr. Trump said in a required letter to Congress that he no longer had “the fullest confidence” in Atkinson; there was not even an effort to disguise the fact that what caused the president to lose that confidence was Atkinson following the law and allowing the truth to come out about Mr. Trump’s lawless attempt to pressure a foreign power to announce politically helpful investigations. Mr. Atkinson will be fired 30 days after the letter went to Congress, the soonest he can be under law, but the president undercut even that law by putting Mr. Atkinson on immediate administrative leave.

Michael Horowitz, the respected inspector general of the Department of Justice and chairman of a council that coordinates inspectors general, went out on a limb to vouch for Mr. Atkinson, praising his integrity and his handling of the Ukraine whistle-blower complaint. Mr. Horowitz is right, and his affirmation that the inspector general community “will continue to conduct aggressive, independent oversight” is heartening.

But President Trump’s further action makes that claim questionable at best. The president compounded the Atkinson announcement on Friday night with his intention to nominate White House lawyer Brian Miller to be special inspector general for pandemic recovery, a key position for oversight of the just-passed $2 trillion coronavirus relief package, which is ripe for fraud and corruption without aggressive review. The position demands ironclad independence, particularly with the risk that the president’s company, relatives, customers and donors could seek to benefit from the stimulus package. Mr. Miller, who served for nearly 10 years as inspector general at the General Services Administration, but more recently played a role in the White House’s response to the impeachment inquiry, is precisely the wrong person to ensure independence. A former senior Senate staff member praised Miller’s “loyalty to the administration” in explaining why he’ll make a good choice, even though loyalty is the exact opposite of what is needed.

The one-two punch of Mr. Atkinson and Mr. Miller is, unfortunately, just the tip of the iceberg of the president’s dangerous attacks on the independence of inspectors general. Mr. Trump will likely fire additional inspectors general because he and his allies view them as “deep state” operatives who undermine him. Indeed, the president seems to view any independence within the government and certainly any checks on him as intolerable disloyalty; that notion, of course, runs counter to our entire system of checks and balances.

Friday night’s actions came at the end of a week of scary departures from democratic practices. Reporting indicates that more and more power has gone to the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, whose coronavirus “shadow task force” of government allies and private sector connections may run afoul of federal law. Mr. Kushner is meanwhile also reportedly playing a significant role in the Trump re-election campaign from the White House, which may also violate federal law. Nepotism and disregard for the law have characterized this administration from day one, but the volume and brazenness of these anti-democratic tendencies is increasing.

Indeed, earlier Friday, the government changed its description on a federal website of the strategic national stockpile to correspond to Mr. Kushner’s description of it as being for the benefit of the federal government, not the states. Also last week, the Navy fired a captain who blew the whistle on the scope of a Covid-19 outbreak on his ship, another example of apparent payback for truthtelling, and the president reportedly wants to have his own signature on stimulus checks to Americans, which may also run afoul of law. All of these autocratic steps come on top of the president’s February purges of officials who testified in the impeachment trial and attempts to meddle in the sentencing of friends and allies convicted of crimes.

Here’s why this matters: times of crisis are when democracies are in the gravest danger of crumbling. We are seeing that play out in the world right now. Hungary, which has watched its hard won post-Cold War democratic reforms slipping away for some time, this week saw its Parliament give Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whom Mr. Trump has praised, unlimited authority, effectively turning the country into a dictatorship. Dictators around the world are using the pandemic to tighten their control.

We’re not there yet. But the president’s attempts to rid the government of those who would provide appropriate oversight and accountability for abuses and speak truth to power, to put in place loyalists who will look out for him rather than providing independent checks, and to empower relatives and disregard laws sets us on a dangerous trajectory. Firing inspectors general and replacing them with loyalists is a serious threat to our democracy. The American people must register our outrage; Congress must investigate the firings aggressively and rigorously vet nominees. If we ignore the erosion of checks and balances because we are preoccupied with more immediate concerns, we may find that our democracy — when we need the institutions of this country the most — is disappearing. Just ask Hungary.

Trampling the Constitution …

“I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

These words are the presidential oath of office that every president takes upon being inaugurated into the office of president.  On 20 January 2017, Chief Justice John Roberts administered the above oath to Donald J. Trump.  In the past 24 hours, the same Donald Trump has threatened to break his oath not once, but twice.Constitution-1The first came on the wave of his rage over the Bob Woodward book, Fear, that is to be released next Tuesday.  Trump repeated his call for stricter libel laws … a threat he has made before.  What Trump is actually calling for, however, is a change in the very definition of the word ‘libel’.

Defamation is defined as the communication of a false statement that harms the reputation of an individual, business, product, group, government, religion, or nation.  Defamation falls under two categories:  slander & libel.  The difference is simple: slander is verbal or by gestures, whereas libel is written or printed.

There are several things a person must prove to establish that libel has taken place. In the United States, a person must prove that 1) the statement was false, 2) caused harm, and 3) was made without adequate research into the truthfulness of the statement. These steps are for an ordinary citizen. For a celebrity or public official, a person must prove the first three steps, and that the statement was made with the intent to do harm or with reckless disregard for the truth.

Trump has been referring to the legitimate press as “the enemy of the people” while at the same time praising Fox News and even Breitbart, neither of whom are known for fact-based, honest reporting.  And now, he wants Congress to enact stricter libel laws, by which he simply means, by his definition, anything printed that is critical of him.  This is not how it works, and it would be a blatant disregard of the 1st Amendment if it were.  As long as what the press prints is factual, or to the best of their belief was factual, they are well within their rights.

Despite the fact that Congress has been bowing to the wishes of Trump since day #1, I cannot imagine that they would even consider such a bill, so I am not concerned that the press will ultimately be shuttered from reporting anything critical of Trump.  However, that he even threatens it is very concerning, for it is but one more indicator of his intent to rule rather than lead.  To bring the government into the realm of autocracy.  Such disregard for the Constitution goes against his oath.constitution-2The second and equally concerning threat was made as a response to protests against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Tuesday.

“I don’t know why they don’t take care of a situation like that. I think it’s embarrassing for the country to allow protesters. You don’t even know what side the protesters are on.”

Now, the statement in itself is disturbing enough, and taken in conjunction with his rants about Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protest against police killing unarmed black men, it makes an even more chilling thought.  “I think it’s embarrassing for the country to allow protestors.”  Again, I direct attention to the 1st Amendment that protects freedom of speech, including peaceful protests.  And again, I remind you that he referred to white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia last year as “very fine people”.  He did not suggest shutting down their freedom of speech.

What is, perhaps, almost as bothersome as what he said is to whom he said it.  He made the statement during an Oval Office interview with the Daily Caller.  Now, in case you aren’t familiar with the Daily Caller, it is a conservative website co-founded by Tucker Carlson of Fox News fame.  Mr. Carlson has more controversies under his belt than can even be tallied.  To give you one small example of his idiocy, he is against seat belt laws.  Like its co-founder, the Daily Caller is laden with controversy and is definitely not a legitimate source of news.  A few examples:

  • In 2017, The Daily Caller published a story claiming that a “peer-reviewed study” by “two scientists and a veteran statistician” found that global warming had been fabricated by climate scientists. The alleged “study” was a PDF file on a WordPress blog, and was not peer-reviewed or published in a scientific journal.

  • In March 2013 The Daily Caller posted interviews with two women claiming that New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez had paid them for sex while he was a guest of a campaign donor. The allegation came five days before the 2012 New Jersey senate election. News organizations such as ABC News, which had also interviewed the women, the New York Times, and the New York Post declined to publish the allegations, viewing them as unsubstantiated and lacking credibility. Subsequently, one of the women who accused Menendez stated that she had been paid to falsely implicate the senator and had never met him. Menendez’s office described the allegations as “manufactured” by a right-wing blog as a politically motivated smear. A few weeks later, police in the Dominican Republic announced that three women had claimed they were paid $300–425 each to lie about having had sex with Menendez.

Carlson Tucker is not much different than Alex Jones, it would seem, and anybody who reads and believes the Daily Caller should come see me about a bridge I have for sale.  For Donald Trump to treat the Daily Caller as a legitimate news source, while denigrating the 141-year-old Washington Post, and the 167-year-old New York Times, is an indicator of his intelligence, or lack thereof.

So, we have a president who, as I have said from the very beginning, is not satisfied with the office of president, but seeks to undermine the foundation of the Constitution by chiseling away at the rights and privileges that document gives us in order to expand and extend his power.  Surely Congress will stop him, right?  Um … well …

**  Endnote:  While I am writing a post, I rarely check news other than to verify facts or look up something pertaining to the post I am writing at the time, lest I lose my focus.  Thus, I was not aware of the anonymous letter from a senior administration official that was published in the New York Times late yesterday afternoon until I had finished writing this post.  I will have more to say about that later, once the dust has settled just a bit, but Trump’s comment that “the Times must, for National Security purposes, turn him/her over to government at once!” sends chills and signals another potential attempt to undermine the Constitution.  

Another Fool On The Hill …

Just when I think I have seen or heard it all, just when I think we have gone as low as we can go, somebody proves to me that there is yet another nether-layer in our government, our society today.  This latest came onto my radar yesterday and has set my teeth on edge.

The headline read …

“Echoing Stalin, House Republican calls for ‘purge’ of the Department of Justice”

The story …

On Tuesday, Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL) called for a “purge” of the Department of Justice to root out officials who may be biased against Trump.

“People need a good clean government,” Rooney told MSNBC. “I would like to see the directors of those agencies [the DOJ and FBI] purge it and say, ‘Look, we’ve got a lot of great agents, a lot of great lawyers here. Those are the people to see and know the good work’s being done, not these people who are kind of the deep state.’” – ThinkProgress, 27 December 2017

It should be noted that Mr. Rooney is a freshman Congressman who has no political background and until his election served as the CEO of his and his brothers’ investment and holding company.  Mr. Rooney is one of those wealthy politicians that inhabit our Congress today, owning  a $14.4 million waterfront estate in Naples, Florida, and a $2.4 million mansion in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Rooney-1

L. Francis Rooney III in 2012 while supporting Mitt Romney’s presidential bid

It has been estimated between 600,000 to 1,750,000 people died at the hands of the Stalin-led Soviet government during the Great Purge of 1936-1938, a campaign of political repression a large-scale purge of the Communist Party and government officials, repression of peasants and the Red Army leadership, widespread police surveillance, suspicion of “saboteurs”, “counter-revolutionaries”, imprisonment, and arbitrary executions. Is this the path we want to follow?  I think not!

Some of us are, understandably, deeply concerned when we hear the word “purge” used in connection with our government, especially when used by our elected representatives who are expected to promote the good of the nation and its people, not necessarily the egomaniac in the White House.

Rooney’s statements stem from the calls by the far right to halt or discredit the investigation by Robert Mueller into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. You may recall that Mr. Mueller relieved one of his team of duties in the investigation because it was discovered that the man, FBI agent Peter Strzok, had sent a text message to his girlfriend in which he referred to Donald Trump as an “idiot”.  Mr. Mueller relieved Strzok of his duties in the investigation immediately in order to preserve the integrity of the investigation, but Trump & Co. seized on the incident to attempt to discredit the entire investigation.  Give a dog a bone …

Mr. Rooney’s suggestion of a ‘purge’ to rid the Department of Justice and the Federal  Bureau of Investigation of all those who are not fans of Donald Trump, is chilling, for it is strongly suggestive of a path toward that autocracy of which I have been warning for a full year now. It is reminiscent of the oaths of fealty in medieval Europe, or more recently, the pledge of loyalty Trump asked of FBI Director James Comey.

On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln gave his historic Gettysburg Address, which reads, in part …

“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

You will note that Lincoln did not say, “… government of the Trumps, by the Trumps, for the Trumps …”  Mr. Rooney and others of his ilk might be well advised to study a bit of history before opening their mouths to speak.

Mr. Rooney later tried to walk back his comments a bit, but it’s funny, isn’t it, how the word, once heard, can never be unheard.  And he continued, even so, to maintain that the FBI should oust individuals he views as “politically compromised”, meaning not Trump supporters.  I have two thoughts on this:

  • If only Trump supporters are allowed to work in federal bureaus and agencies, I doubt we would ever be able to fully staff any of said bureaus and agencies
  • If only Trump supporters are allowed to work in the federal government, then we will be living under a dictatorship

Rooney’s use of the word ‘purge’ was foolish, and could be forgiven had it come from a kid working the drive-thru at McDonalds.  But it was spoken by a man who is in a position to make decisions that affect our lives, and from him it is unconscionable and unacceptable.  He is a first term member of the House of Representatives.  I hope that next November, Floridians will ensure that he is a “one and done” representative.

Divided We Fall …

“United we stand, divided we fall” – John Dickinson, July 1768

“Divide and conquer” – attributed to Philip of Macedonia

“A house divided against itself cannot stand” – Abraham Lincoln, June 1858


Regardless of whether you are republican or democrat, conservative or liberal, I am asking you today to suspend disbelief for a few minutes and give some thought to an idea that awakened me this morning.

The great divide, as I have called it for the past year, has been in the making for nearly a decade, having its origins, I believe, in the formation of the “Tea Party movement” which appeared to be mainly a response to the election of the nation’s first African-American president, Barack Obama. Throughout President Obama’s two terms, there was push and then push-back, until the divide widened and then widened some more.  Already, by 2015, any political discussion was likely to turn into a hostile argument, Congress was rendered ineffective by extreme partisanship, friends and families parted ways, and the nation was primed for one of two things:  a large-scale catastrophe that would bring the people together again, or a manipulator who would further widen the gap between ideologies.  Enter Donald Trump.

While I do not credit Trump with a large amount of intelligence, I do credit him with being devious, for it is what he has spent his life doing.  And he had some help from at least one autocratic leader, Vladimir Putin, who is intelligent as well as devious.  It turned out to be a winning combination for Trump, though a losing one for the people of the United States.

Donald Trump quickly realized that the most polarizing issue in the U.S. was immigration, and his entire campaign revolved around that issue.  He had people chanting “build that wall”, while others were protesting at his rallies in support of human rights.  He claimed we would ban Muslims, for they were terrorists, and we would keep out Mexicans, for they were ‘rapists and murderers’. At its core, the immigration debate is not, as Trump has claimed, about either the economy or national security.  At its core, the immigration debate is about racism, pure and simple.  Donald Trump played his cards well. And we became ever more divided.

Congress, having a republican majority in both the House and the Senate, is also divided, but in recent weeks, there have been some signs that members of Congress are willing to reach across the aisle and work together, for the health care debacle proved that without some bi-partisan effort, nothing could be accomplished.  This was good news for the nation, good news for the people, but bad news for Donald Trump, for his goal is to keep them apart, to keep them fighting on every issue.  And so, he reached out to Schumer and Pelosi, knowing that such a move would anger the far right, the radical elements in his own party.  He never intended, I think, to actually follow through in efforts to work with the democrats, and that, from his perspective, was the beauty of the plan.  He annoys a good portion of his own party, then turns 180 degrees around and makes demands that are contrary to what he discussed with Schumer and Pelosi, thus annoying the democrats.

If there is one thing Donald Trump understands, it is how to bring out the worst in people, how to pit them against one another.

I began this post with three quotations that I turn to now.

“United we stand, divided we fall” – Patrick Henry used this phrase in his last public speech, saying “United we stand, divided we fall. Let us not split into factions which must destroy that union upon which our existence hangs.”

“Divide and conquer” – the key elements of which are: creating and encouraging divisions to prevent alliances; fostering distrust and enmity; and encouraging meaningless expenditures that reduce the capability for other things.  Immanuel Kant, in his Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch, cited three political maxims for an autocrat: Divide et impera – divide and conquer; Fac et excusa – Act now, and make excuses later; and Si fecisti, nega – when you commit a crime, deny it.  Trump has done all three of these to one extent or another.

“A house divided against itself cannot stand” – The North and the South had come to hold distinct opinions in the question of slavery, and now the issue had come to permeate every other political question.  Lincoln believed that unless the issue of slavery was resolved soon, the Union would no longer be able to function.

This is not the first time our nation has been so divided, however it is, I believe, the first time that our divisions are being manipulated by one person for the purpose of increasing the power of the presidency at the cost of reducing the power of the people.  Yes, we still have the vote, but Trump is taking steps to manipulate that, also, with his voter fraud commission that, given the people who are in charge of the commission, seems likely to remove many, perhaps millions, from the voter registration rolls.

I said early on that Trump would not like the confines of the office of president, that he would not like the congressional oversight and the rules that bind his office.  I believed then, as I do now, that his goal is and has always been, to be a ruler rather than a leader.  I cannot predict the outcome, for I still have hopes that the system of checks and balances will hold, that the people will begin to awaken and see what is happening to this nation, and that Trump will be removed from office before his power is such that he cannot be removed.  That is my hope. The end result depends on each and every one of us.