–As word of Donald Trump’s internet censorship order spreads, opposition explodes over the authoritarian nightmare
None of Trump’s extremist policy ideas has received public support. The public opposed last year’s
- Republican-backed corporate tax cut, Trump’s
- effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), his
- proposed border wall with Mexico, the decision to
- withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement, and the
- imposition of tariff increases on China, Europe, and others.
- At the same time, contrary to Trump’s relentless promotion of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and gas), the public favors investments in renewable energy and remaining in the Paris climate agreement.
.. Trump has tried to implement his radical agenda using three approaches.
1) The first has been to rely on the Republican majorities in the two houses of Congress to pass legislation in the face of strong popular opposition. That approach succeeded once, with the 2017 corporate tax cut, because big Republican donors insisted on the measure, but it failed with Trump’s attempt to repeal Obamacare, as three Republican senators balked.
.. 2) The second approach has been to use executive orders to circumvent Congress. Here the courts have repeatedly intervened, most recently within days of the election, when a federal district court halted work on the Keystone XL Pipeline, a project strongly opposed by environmentalists, on the grounds that the Trump administration had failed to present a “reasoned explanation” for its actions. Trump repeatedly and dangerously oversteps his authority, and the courts keep pushing back.
.. 3) Trump’s third tactic has been to rally public opinion to his side. Yet, despite his frequent rallies, or perhaps because of them and their incendiary vulgarity, Trump’s disapproval rating has exceeded his approval rating since the earliest days of his administration. His current overall disapproval rating is 54%, versus 40% approval, with strong approval from around 25% of the public. There has been no sustained move in Trump’s direction.
.. In the midterm elections, which Trump himself described as a referendum on his presidency, the Democratic candidates for both the House and Senate vastly outpolled their Republican opponents. In the House races, Democrats received 53,314,159 votes nationally, compared with 48,439,810 for Republicans. In the Senate races, Democrats outpolled Republicans by 47,537,699 votes to 34,280,990.
.. Summing up votes by party for the three recent election cycles (2014, 2016, and 2018), Democratic Senate candidates outpolled Republican candidates by roughly 120 million to 100 million. Nonetheless, the Republicans hold a slight majority in the Senate, where each state is represented by two senators, regardless of the size of its population, because they tend to win their seats in less populous states, whereas Democrats prevail in the major coastal and Midwestern states.
Wyoming, for example, elects two Republican senators to represent its nearly 580,000 residents, while California’s more than 39 million residents elect two Democratic senators.
Without control of the House, however, Trump will no longer be able to enact any unpopular legislation. Only policies with bipartisan support will have a chance of passing both chambers.
.. On the economic front, Trump’s trade policies will become even less popular in the months ahead as the American economy cools from the “sugar high” of the corporate tax cut, as growing uncertainty about global trade policy hamstrings business investment, and as both the budget deficit and interest rates rise. Trump’s phony national-security justifications for raising tariffs will also be challenged politically and perhaps in the courts.
.. True, Trump will be able to continue appointing conservative federal judges and most likely win their confirmation in the Republican-majority Senate. And on issues of war and peace, Trump will operate with terrifyingly little oversight by Congress or the public, an affliction of the US political system since World War II. Trump, like his recent predecessors, will most likely keep America mired in wars in the Middle East and Africa, despite the lack of significant public understanding or support.
.. Nonetheless, there are three further reasons to believe that Trump’s hold on power will weaken significantly in the coming months. First, Special Counsel Robert Mueller may very well document serious malfeasance by Trump, his family members, and/or his close advisers.
.. Second, the House Democrats will begin to investigate Trump’s taxes and personal business dealings, including through congressional subpoenas. There are strong reasons to believe that Trump has committed serious tax evasion (as the New York Times recently outlined) and has illegally enriched his family as president (a lawsuit that the courts have allowed to proceed alleges violations of the emoluments clause of the Constitution). Trump is likely to ignore or fight the subpoenas, setting the stage for a major political crisis.
.. Third, and most important, Trump is not merely an extremist politician. He suffers from what author Ian Hughes has recently called “a disordered mind,” filled with
- paranoia, and
According to two close observers of Trump, the president’s grip on reality “will likely continue to diminish” in the face of growing political obstacles, investigations into his taxes and business dealings, Mueller’s findings, and an energized political opposition. We may already be seeing that in Trump’s erratic and aggressive behavior since the election.
.. The coming months may be especially dangerous for America and the world. As Trump’s political position weakens and the obstacles facing him grow, his mental instability will pose an ever-greater danger. He could explode in rage, fire Mueller, and perhaps try to launch a war or claim emergency powers in order to restore his authority. We have not yet seen Trump in full fury, but may do so soon, as his room for maneuver continues to narrow. In that case, much will depend on the performance of America’s constitutional order.
A president doesn’t have the right to dispense with laws he dislikes.
From the moment he took office, President Trump has used all aspects of his executive power to sabotage the Affordable Care Act. He has issued executive orders, directed agencies to come up with new rules and used the public platform of the presidency in a blatant attempt to undermine the law. Indeed, he has repeatedly bragged about doing so, making statements like, “Essentially, we are getting rid of Obamacare.”
But Mr. Trump isn’t a king; he doesn’t have the power to dispense with laws he dislikes. He swore to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. That includes the requirement, set forth in Article II, that the president “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”
Faithfully executing the laws requires the president to act reasonably and in good faith. It does not countenance the deliberate sabotage of an act of Congress. Put bluntly: Mr. Trump’s assault on Obamacare is illegal.
Among Mr. Trump’s first acts in office was to issue an executive order instructing his agencies “to waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay the implementation of” any part of the Affordable Care Act that they could. That order has prompted a series of administrative actions aimed at undermining the law.
To make it harder for people to enroll in Obamacare plans, for example, the administration
- shortened the open enrollment period on the health care exchanges from three months to six weeks;
- cut 90 percent of the funding that the exchanges had used to advertise open enrollment; and
- slashed the funding available to groups that help people navigate the complex enrollment process.
To sow chaos in the insurance markets, Mr. Trump toyed for nine months with the idea of eliminating a crucial funding stream for Obamacare known as cost-sharing payments. After he cut off those funds, he boasted that Obamacare was “being dismantled.”
When Congress declined to repeal the Affordable Care Act, as Mr. Trump had requested, he said that he was taking on that job himself: “So we’re going a little different route.”
.. announced that insurers will have more latitude to sell “short-term” health plans that are exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s rules
.. These plans were designed to provide people insurance for small gaps in coverage, like those created when switching jobs. They had previously been limited to three months... these rules are creating a cheap form of “junk” coverage that does not have to meet the higher standards of Obamacare... The Trump administration’s goal is not only to weaken the Affordable Care Act but also to trick the public into thinking, as opponents of the law like to say, that Obamacare is “collapsing under its own weight.”Never in modern American history has a president so transparently aimed to destroy a piece of major legislation.What makes Mr. Trump’s sabotage especially undemocratic is that Congress has repeatedly considered repealing the law — and repeatedly declined to do so.In addition, the Supreme Court has twice sustained the Affordable Care Act in the face of major legal challenges. Mr. Trump’s attempt to destroy the law any way he can is an unconstitutional usurpation of power... a lawsuit — the first of its kind — filed this month in federal court in Maryland. Brought by several plaintiffs including the cities of Chicago, Cincinnati and Columbus, the lawsuit recounts the “relentless and unlawful campaign to sabotage and, ultimately, to nullify” the Affordable Care Act... questions about whether the courts have the authority or the institutional competence to prevent violations of Article II’s requirement that the president “take care that the laws be faithfully executed” — especially given the wide discretion that presidents traditionally have to implement the laws.
The Trump administration insisted it didn’t have a policy of separating children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. It said that it was merely following the law. And it said “Congress alone can fix” the mess.]
It just admitted that all that was nonsense — and that it badly overplayed its hand.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who on Sunday and Monday insisted that this wasn’t an actual policy and that the administration’s hands are tied, will now have to untie them as the White House will reverse the supposedly nonexistent policy.
.. It’s at once an admission that the politics of the issue had gotten out of hand and that the administration’s arguments were completely dishonest. Virtually everything it said about the policy is tossed aside with this executive action. It’s the political equivalent of waving the white flag and the legal equivalent of confessing to making false statements. Rather than letting Congress rebuke it, the White House is rebuking itself and trying to save some face.
.. But that’s the opposite of the approach the administration had said was demanded by the situation for the past several days.
Here’s a sampling:
- “Congress and the courts created this problem, and Congress alone can fix it. Until then, we will enforce every law we have on the books to defend the sovereignty and security of the United States.” — Nielsen
- “It’s not a policy. Our policy at DHS is to do what we’re sworn to do, which is to enforce the law.” — Nielsen
- “The only [other] option is to not enforce the law at all.” — Nielsen
- “I don’t want children taken away from parents. And when you prosecute the parents for coming in illegally, which should happen, you have to take the children away. Now we don’t have to prosecute them, but then we’re not prosecuting them for coming in illegally.” — Trump
- “You can’t do it through an executive order.” — Trump
And not only did the administration say it was bound by man’s law to do what it was doing; it said it was also bound by God’s law.
.. And it makes clear that, from Day One, this was a political gambit to force an immigration bill through. It didn’t work.