Trump is damaged most, not by sabotage, but by self-revelation.
.. The president has recently taunted FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe for “racing the clock to retire with full benefits,”
- attacked the “Deep State Justice Department,” taken credit for the lack of commercial airline crashes,
- urged“Jail!” for former Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, called for the sacking of two journalists,
- claimed the news media will eventually “let me win” reelection to keep up their ratings,
- displayed a sputtering inability to describe his own health-care reform plan,
- claimed that a cold snap disproves global warming,
- boasted of having “a much bigger & more powerful” nuclear button than Kim Jong Un,
- tried to prevent the publication of Wolff’s book,
- and insisted he is “like, really smart” and “a very stable genius.”
.. More likely, Trump is exhibiting a set of compulsions and delusions that have characterized his entire adult life. You can’t have declining judgment that never existed. You can’t lose a grasp on reality you never possessed. What is most striking is not Trump’s disintegration but his utter consistency.
.. If the secret tape of a president threatening a private citizen with jail were leaked, it would be a scandal. With Trump, it is just part of his shtick.
.. The president’s defenders, in perpetual pursuit of the bright side, argue for the value of unpredictability in political leadership — which is true enough. But Trump is not unpredictable. He is predictable in ways that make him vulnerable to exploitation.
He is easy to flatter, easy to provoke and thus easy to manipulate.
.. The Chinese have made an art of this
.. “I like very much President Xi,” Trump has said. “He treated me better than anybody’s ever been treated in the history of China.” Contrast this with Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has treated Trump like an adult with arguments and criticism. Big mistake.
.. Trump has revealed a thick streak of authoritarianism. “I have [an] absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department,” he insists.
- .. “Libel laws are very weak in this country,”
- Rivals are not only to be defeated; they should be imprisoned.
- Critics are not to be refuted; they should be fired.
- Investigations are not to be answered; they should be shut down.
.. we are depending on the strength of those institutions, not the self-restraint of the president, to safeguard democracy.
.. At the beginning, they could engage in wishful thinking about Trump’s fitness. Now they must know he is not emotionally equipped to be president. Yet, they also know this can’t be admitted, lest they be accused of letting down their partisan team.
.. GOP leaders are engaged in an intentional deception, pretending the president is a normal and capable leader.
.. they will, eventually, be exposed. And by then, the country may not be in a forgiving mood.
Donald Trump and the Rule of Law
It all stems from President Trump’s contempt for the rule of law.
.. in a quasi-normal political environment, would have led to an impeachment investigation.
.. Richard Nixon earned eternal disgrace for keeping a list of his political enemies, but he, at least, was ashamed enough of the practice to know that he had to keep it secret. Trump, in contrast, is openly calling for the Department of Justice, which he controls, to put his political opponents in jail.
This kind of behavior is a trademark of the authoritarians he admires, like Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
.. Trump sent Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel, to urge Jeff Sessions, the Attorney General, not to recuse himself from supervising the investigation. Trump did so because he felt that Sessions should be protecting him. “Where’s my Roy Cohn?”
.. Trump asked for loyalty from James Comey, the F.B.I. director, who was supervising the investigation. When Comey equivocated, Trump fired him, then put out a false story for why he did so
.. Trump’s contempt for the rule of law infects his entire Administration
.. Sessions has installed acting U.S. Attorneys in much of the country—including in such high-profile locations as Manhattan and Los Angeles—and senators can’t exert any oversight of them.
.. This gesture of contempt for the Senate’s role in confirmations
.. Trump has nominated many fewer officials to Senate-confirmed positions than his predecessors; instead, Cabinet secretaries have filled these crucial positions with acting or temporary officials who avoid scrutiny
Sessions Recalls Adviser Mentioning Contacts With Russia
Attorney general has previously said he knew of no such contacts
Attorney General Jeff Sessions testified Tuesday that he recalls a meeting with a Trump campaign adviser at which the adviser spoke about contacts with Russians, after Mr. Sessions testified earlier this year he knew of no such contacts with the campaign.
.. Mr. Trump has also pressed the Justice Department to investigate Mrs. Clinton, including in social-media posts.
“The Justice Department can never be used to retaliate against political opponents and that would be wrong,” Mr. Sessions said
Trump’s Threat to the Constitution
A congresswoman asked him about his plans to protect Article I of the Constitution, which assigns all federal lawmaking power to Congress.
Mr. Trump interrupted her to declare his commitment to the Constitution — even to parts of it that do not exist, such as “Article XII.” Shock swept through the room as Mr. Trump confirmed one of our chief concerns about him: He lacked a basic knowledge of the Constitution.
There is still deeper cause for concern. Mr. Trump’s erroneous proclamation also suggested that he lacked even an interest in the Constitution. Worse, his campaign rhetoric had demonstrated authoritarian tendencies.
.. He had questioned judicial independence, threatened the freedom of the press, called for violating Muslims’ equal protection under the law, promised the use of torture and attacked Americans based on their gender, race and religion. He had also undermined critical democratic norms including peaceful debate and transitions of power, commitment to truth, freedom from foreign interference and abstention from the use of executive power for political retribution.
.. I carry no brief for flag-burners, but I defend their free-speech right to protest — a right guaranteed under the First Amendment. Although I suspect that Mr. Trump’s chief purpose was to provoke his opponents, his action was consistent with the authoritarian playbook he uses.
.. Mr. Trump also recently inflated his election performance, claiming — without evidence — that he “won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” This, too, is nothing new. Authoritarians often exaggerate their popular support to increase the perception of their legitimacy. But the deeper objective is to weaken the democratic institutions that limit their power. Eroding confidence in voting, elections and representative bodies gives them a freer hand to wield more power.
.. As a C.I.A. officer, I saw firsthand authoritarians’ use of these tactics around the world.
.. Mr. Trump has said that he prefers to be unpredictable because it maximizes his power. During his recent interview with The New York Times, he casually abandoned his fiery calls during the campaign for torture, prosecuting Hillary Clinton and changing libel laws. Mr. Trump’s inconsistencies and provocative proposals are a strategy; they are intended to elevate his importance above all else — and to place him beyond democratic norms, beyond even the Constitution.
.. We must never forget that we are born equal, with basic, natural rights, including those of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Those rights are inherent in us because we are humans, not because they are granted by government.
.. We can no longer assume that all Americans understand the origins of their rights and the importance of liberal democracy. We need a new era of civic engagement that will reawaken us to the cause of liberty and equality.
.. We cannot allow Mr. Trump to normalize the idea that he is the ultimate arbiter of our rights.