.. The standard presidential complaint boils down to: “Sure, we need a free press. I just want it to be ‘fairer’ to me.”
.. Donald Trump accepts the existence of the formal and informal institutional structure that constitutes American democracy only as long as that suits his purposes, and disdains or directly attacks it when it gets in his way.
.. It’s fair to disclose that in the pre-Trump era I disagreed with Stephens’s views pretty much across the board on international and domestic policy. He was for the Iraq war and against the Iran nuclear deal; my views were the reverse.
.. Stephens extends the argument to one of the traits that most strikingly distinguishes Trump from most other politicians: that he does not care if he is shown to be telling obvious, easily disprovable lies.
.. the unsettling novelty of Trump is that he tells lies when they’re not useful, he tells lies when he knows they can be disproven, he lies and shows less remorse than a lizard when the lie is exposed... the entirety of the liberal-governing experiment of the past four centuries involves checks on what you can get away with. Doing what you can get away with is the governing ethic of the tribe, of the feudal lord, of today’s autocrats. It’s the ethic of Tony Soprano.. but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.. Of the institutions that might check him:
- The most basic is elections, but Trump famously said during the campaign that he would “accept” the results—“if I win.” Since then he has of course repeated his false claim that his popular vote loss was rigged by illegal voting, and that his electoral-college win was very large rather than historically small. Imagine Trump on the losing side of a Bush v. Gore-style decision, or even in Hillary Clinton’s position now, as the clear winner of the popular vote but the loser of the office.
.. Instinctively by Trump, perhaps strategically by Bannon and others, the Trump moment has promoted the idea that there are no facts, no reality, no authorities, no actual truth. There’s only us and them.
.. It is no coincidence that reporters who have dealt with state-news systems in autocratic Russia (like David Remnick or Masha Gessen) or China (where I have lived) are more much concerned by Trump than amused.
.. The moment we no longer have a free press, anything can happen. What makes it possible for a totalitarian or any other dictatorship to rule is that people are not informed; how can you have an opinion if you are not informed? If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer. This is because lies, by their very nature, have to be changed, and a lying government has constantly to rewrite its own history. On the receiving end you get not only one lie—a lie which you could go on for the rest of your days—but you get a great number of lies, depending on how the political wind blows.
And a people that no longer can believe anything cannot make up its mind. It is deprived not only of its capacity to act but also of its capacity to think and to judge. And with such a people you can then do what you please.
Rudolph Giuliani’s acknowledgment that the travel ban was really a Muslim ban; the failure of the lawyers who wrote the ban to consult national-security officials; and Mr. Trump’s statements in interviews.
.. But the blame lies with Mr. Trump. Having used the pretext of national security to indulge his hostility to a vulnerable group and lacking self-discipline and professionalism, he has lost the confidence of the courts, just as he may have lost the confidence of intelligence agents he compared to Nazis.
.. And if a terrorist attack does happen, as the president suggested in a tweet, he might feel empowered to defy the courts.
White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller can take to the Sunday shows to assert that “the powers of the president to protect our country . . . will not be questioned” or that “there’s no such thing as judicial supremacy.” But the evidence suggests that ultimately Trump will comply with court rulings even as he denounces them as “disgraceful” and “political.”
.. Trump is different, quantitatively and qualitatively, in the amount, venom and public nature of his attack.
.. When Trump, repeating false claims of an electoral landslide, said his had been “the biggest electoral college win since Ronald Reagan,” NBC News’s Peter Alexander fact-checked him in real time — and Trump, confronted with irrefutable numbers, seemed to crumble: “Well I don’t know. I was given that information. I was given — actually, I’ve seen that information around. But it was a very substantial victory. Do you agree with that?”
His plans have been complicated by virtually every counterforce, at home and abroad, that can limit a president.
Stephen Miller broadcast the administration’s great expectations of whirlwind advances when he declared, in one interview: “Our opponents, the media, and the whole world will soon see, as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”
But in fact Trump is facing effective questioning from virtually every counterforce, at home and abroad, that can constrain a president. A partial list would include federal courts, the career federal civil service, the “deep state” of the intelligence and law-enforcement communities, spirited investigative-reporting teams, a highly energized public opposition, state and local governments, and other nations.
.. Both George W. Bush (mostly on national security and surveillance) and Barack Obama (primarily on domestic issues like immigration) demonstrated that Congress has limited ability to truly stop a president determined to push the boundaries of executive power
.. Many of the key legal fights against Obama were led by Republican state attorneys general, who repeatedly sued him en masse on initiatives from immigration to climate change. That opened a new front in checking a president;
.. Perhaps the most ominous fact in the Post’s scoop was that no less than nine current and former intelligence officials had confirmed Flynn’s communications.
.. at least some involved are fearful it will be shut down without public disclosure
.. Trump’s team, facing near-unified international resistance, has privately acknowledged it will uphold the Iranian nuclear deal he publicly disdains.