The Cosmic Joke of Donald Trump’s Power

How much power will a president with such tenuous claim to it get to wield? How profound and durable an impact will such a shallow and fickle person make?

.. Donald Trump barely won the White House, under circumstances — a tainted opponent, three million fewer votes than she received, James Comey’s moral vanity and Russia’s amoral exertions — that raise serious questions about how many Americans yearned to see him there.

.. In his heart of hearts, he doesn’t give a damn about rolling back abortion rights. Any sane analysis of his background and sober read of his character leads to that conclusion. Yet this man of all men — a misogynist, a philanderer, a grabber-by-the-you-know-what — may be the end of Roe v. Wade.

.. So many of Trump’s positions, not just on abortion but also on a whole lot else, were embraced late in the game, as matters of political convenience. They were his clearest path to power. Then they were his crudest way to flex it.

.. Now they’re his crassest way to hold on to it. He will almost certainly move to replace Kennedy with a deeply, unswervingly conservative jurist not because that’s consistent with his own core (what core?) but because it’s catnip to the elements of his base that got him this far and could carry him farther.

.. Never mind how much it exacerbates this country’s already crippling political polarization

.. his is a moment, if ever there was one, to set a bipartisan example and apply a healing touch.

.. Trump will gladly cleave the country in two before he’ll dim the applause of his most ardent acolytes.

.. Get ready: He’ll crow and taunt. He’s already crowing and, characteristically, making Kennedy’s retirement all about him.

.. He will bully, both ideologically and tactically. And he will get his way, because — this is part of that cosmic joke — the advantages seem always to cut his way. The obstacles teeter and collapse.

.. Other presidents have had to worry about getting 60 votes in the Senate for Supreme Court nominations to proceed. Not Trump.

.. McConnell used the “nuclear option” once already, for Neil Gorsuch, rendering a Democratic filibuster irrelevant. So the precedent has been set.

.. In fact three of them — Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota — supported Gorsuch’s confirmation last year. It’s no accident that North Dakota, which Trump won by nearly 36 points, was the site of his rally on Wednesday night.

..  his sneering, gloating, uncompromising response to that aren’t a familiar combination.

.. It’s impossible to square the roughly 77,000 votes by which he won the Electoral College with the license that he has given himself and the rein that the members of his adopted party have given him.

.. the truth about Trump is the opposite of the story he tells. He points to Robert Mueller’s investigation and to negative media coverage and portrays himself as a modern-day martyr.

.. But he’s the luckiest man alive. Although he savaged the G.O.P. en route to its presidential nomination, he was greeted in Washington by a mum McConnell, a blushing Paul Ryan and a mostly obsequious Republican congressional majority.

.. with a handpicked replacement for Kennedy, he’d probably have “fewer checks on his power than any president in his lifetime

.. “The media, normally the last check on a president with total control of government, has lost the trust of most Republicans and many Democrats, after two years of Trump pummeling.”

.. That doesn’t account for a Democratic takeover of at least one chamber of Congress, the importance of which cannot be overstated.

.. conscience. A better man might shudder somewhat at the division that he was sowing and the wreckage in his wake. Trump merely revels in his ability to pull off what nobody thought he could. Shamelessness is his greatest gift. How unfunny is that?

One Thing Donald Trump Would Like Is Freedom From the Press

More than any president in living memory, Donald Trump has conducted a dogged, remorseless assault on the press. He portrays the news media not only as a dedicated adversary of his administration but of the entire body politic. These attacks have forced the media where it does not want to be, at the center of the political debate.

Trump’s purpose is clear. He seeks to weaken an institution that serves to constrain the abusive exercise of executive authority.

.. He has described news organizations as “the enemy of the American people.” He has routinely called reporters“scum,” “slime,” “dishonest” and “disgusting.”

.. Rosen observed that the history of right-wing attacks on the media

extends back through Agnew’s speeches for Nixon to Goldwater’s campaign in 1964 and winds forward through William Rushertalk radio, and of course Fox News, which founded a business model on liberal bias.

Trump is not just attacking the press but the conditions that make it possible for news reports to serve as any kind of check on power.

.. From undue influence (Agnew’s claim) to something closer to treason (enemy of the people.) Instead of criticizing ‘the media’ for unfair treatment, he whips up hatred for it.

.. Trump has some built-in advantages in his war on the media. Confidence in the media was in decline long before Trump entered politics

..  in September 2017 that 37 percent of the public had a “great deal” or “fair amount” of confidence in the mass media, down from 53 percent in 1997.

.. The Trump administration, with a rhetoric that began during the campaign and burgeoned in the earliest days of Donald Trump’s presidency, has engaged in enemy construction of the press, and the risks that accompany that categorization are grave.

.. Insofar as Trump succeeds in “undercutting the watchdog, educator, and proxy functions of the press,” they write, it

leaves the administration more capable of delegitimizing other institutions and constructing other enemies — including

  • the judiciary,
  • the intelligence community,
  • immigrants, and
  • members of certain races or religions.

.. Trump is signaling — through his terminology, through his delegitimizing actions, and through his anticipatory undercutting — that the press is literally the enemy, to be distrusted, ignored, and excluded.

.. motivate it to want to call out the changing norms that it sees around it, and to defend the role of important democratic institutions when they are attacked. But when the press is itself one of those institutions, it finds itself a part of the story in ways that it is unaccustomed to being, and it has to weigh the potential loss of credibility that might come with an aggressive self-defense.

.. “The best way for the press to react to Trump’s undemocratic behavior is to continue trying to do their jobs the best they can,”

.. Ladd specifically warned against “reacting to Trump by becoming more crusadingly anti-Trump.”

Trump has successfully “put the mainstream media in a difficult position,” according to Geoffrey Stone, a law professor at the University of Chicago:

If the media directly address the accusations of fake news, they ironically run the risk of dignifying the accusations. But if they ignore the accusations, they miss the opportunity to prove their professionalism to those who have grown skeptical.

.. Trump’s disdain for the First Amendment is an integral part of a much longer series of developments in which both parties have demonstrated a willingness to defy democratic norms, although the Republican Party has been in the forefront.

For a quarter of a century, Republican officials have been more willing than Democratic officials to play constitutional hardball — not only or primarily on judicial nominations but across a range of spheres. Democrats have also availed themselves of hardball throughout this period, but not with the same frequency or intensity.

.. Fishkin and Pozen cite the work of Mark Tushnet, a professor at Harvard Law School, to define constitutional hardball as “political claims and practices”

that are without much question within the bounds of existing constitutional doctrine and practice but that are nonetheless in some tension with existing pre-constitutional understandings. Constitutional hardball tactics are viewed by the other side as provocative and unfair because they flout the ‘goes without saying’ assumptions that underpin working systems of constitutional government. Such tactics do not generally flout binding legal norms. But that only heightens the sense of foul play insofar as it insulates acts of hardball from judicial review.

Republicans on the far right, in particular, Fishkin and Pozen write, have been willing to engage in constitutional hardball because they are drawn to “narratives of debasement and restoration,” which suggest

that something has gone fundamentally awry in the republic, on the order of an existential crisis, and that unpatriotic liberals have allowed or caused it to happen.

The severity of the liberal threat, in the eyes of these conservatives, justifies extreme steps to restore what they see as a besieged moral order.

.. As with so many things about President Trump, it strikes me that he didn’t start the fire. He got into office because it was already burning and now he’s pouring on gasoline.

.. Accusations that the press has a political agenda can, perversely, help create an agenda which is then said to corroborate the accusations.

.. Pozen described Trump’s denunciation of the press as “the culmination of several decades of comparable attacks by media pundits, such as Rush Limbaugh” and he argues that Trump’s calls

to lock up one’s general election opponent, encouraging online hate mobs, lying constantly, attacking the press constantly, contradicting oneself constantly, undermining the very idea of truth are individually and in common potentially profound threats to the integrity and quality of our system of free expression.

 

McGahn in June, Other Republicans Soon

Republicans — and only Republicans — have the power to make clear that Trump’s presidency is effectively over if he fires Robert Mueller, the special counsel.

At the Justice Department, Republicans can refuse to carry out any order to fire Mueller and create a firestorm if Trump subsequently fires them.

And at the White House, Republicans serving under Trump can explain to him that he would create a true constitutional crisis if he tried to subvert the rule of law.

.. We now know — thanks to Michael Schmidt and Maggie Haberman of The Times — that Trump did try to subvert the rule of law.

.. I would caution people not to lionize McGahn. He’s been involved in some of this administration’s seedier acts, including the nomination of unqualified federal-judge candidates, at least one of whom had personal ties to him. He also played a role in previous attempts by the White House to muck up the Russia investigation, including the firing of James Comey as the F.B.I. director.

.. But McGahn acted honorably and bravely when it mattered most.

.. there is every reason to think he is afraid of it — and willing to do almost anything to obstruct it.

 

 

The Roots of Poland’s Defiance of the European Union

last week, Poland challenged the very notion of what it means to be part of the bloc when the country pushed ahead with controversial measures to overhaul its judicial system and essentially put the courts under the control of the governing party. The action set off unprecedented censure from the European Union.

For the first time, the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, used the most powerful threat in its arsenal to try to stop the measure, invoking Article 7 of the European Union treaty, which could strip Poland of its voting rights. It accused the government of trying to undermine core democratic values.

.. it also challenged the very notion of how effectively the bloc can deal with countries that step out of line. If Brussels fails to curb what it sees as behavior that undermines democratic values in Poland, other nations with their own populist leaders, like the Czech Republic and Romania, will be emboldened to chart their own course.

.. Poland is not Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orban frequently antagonizes European Union leaders and cozies up to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

.. But when the Constitution was enacted in 1997, no right-wing party was represented, including Center Agreement, a Christian democratic party and the predecessor to Law and Justice, the current ruling party.

“They refused to give this Constitution legitimacy,”

.. this lack of inclusion led to a bitterness that still fuels the governing party and its powerful leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

.. When Law and Justice briefly held power before, from 2005 to 2007, its leader, Mr. Kaczynski, found himself stymied by the courts at every turn. He coined a term for what he viewed as obstructionism: prawny imposybilizm, or legal impossibilism.

.. The first move was to dismantle the Constitutional Tribunal, which is empowered to review Poland’s laws. They removed unfriendly justices and ensured the once-powerful body was little more than a rubber stamp for the party

“The mechanics of this attack on the Supreme Court are very similar,” he said. “First, you have an attack on judges.”

.. “The whole idea behind these two bills is to have full control over the national judiciary council, which has control over appointing judges,”

.. “And if you have control over the selecting committee, you need vacancies.”

.. He pointed to a new provision that allows for something known as a special extraordinary appeal, which would essentially allow any case over the past 20 years to be reopened.

.. “I am ashamed now,” he said. “We were a paragon of transformation of the rule of law. That has all changed.”