Only Trump’s flamboyant awfulness stands in the way of his party’s power grab.
Donald Trump, it turns out, may have been the best thing that could have happened to American democracy.
No, I haven’t lost my mind. Individual-1 is clearly a wannabe dictator who has contempt for the rule of law, not to mention being corrupt and probably in the pocket of foreign powers. But he’s also lazy, undisciplined, self-absorbed and inept. And since the threat to democracy is much broader and deeper than one man, we’re actually fortunate that the forces menacing America have such a ludicrous person as their public face.
.. If you want to understand what’s happening to our country, the book you really need to read is “How Democracies Die,” by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. As the authors — professors of government at Harvard — point out, in recent decades a number of nominally democratic nations have become de facto authoritarian, one-party states. Yet none of them have had classic military coups, with tanks in the street.
.. What we’ve seen instead are coups of a subtler form:
- takeovers or intimidation of the news media,
- rigged elections that disenfranchise opposing voters,
- new rules of the game that give the ruling party overwhelming control even if it loses the popular vote,
- corrupted courts.
.. The classic example is Hungary, where Fidesz, the white nationalist governing party, has effectively
- taken over the bulk of the media;
- destroyed the independence of the judiciary;
- rigged voting to enfranchise supporters and disenfranchise opponents;
- gerrymandered electoral districts in its favor; and
- altered the rules so that a minority in the popular vote translates into a supermajority in the legislature.
Does a lot of this sound familiar? It should. You see, Republicans have been adopting similar tactics — not at the federal level (yet), but in states they control... the states, which Justice Louis Brandeis famously pronounced the laboratories of democracy, “are in danger of becoming laboratories of authoritarianism as those in power rewrite electoral rules, redraw constituencies and even rescind voting rights to ensure that they do not lose.”
.. Thus, voter purges and deliberate restriction of minority access to the polls have become standard practice in much of America. Would Brian Kemp, the governor-elect of Georgia — who oversaw his own election as secretary of state — have won without these tactics? Almost certainly not.
.. you get a lot less reassured if you look at what happened at the state level, where votes often weren’t reflected in terms of control of state legislatures.
Let’s talk, in particular, about what’s happening in Wisconsin.
.. Having lost every statewide office in Wisconsin last month, Republicans are using the lame-duck legislative session to drastically curtail these offices’ power, effectively keeping rule over the state in the hands of the G.O.P.-controlled Legislature.
.. What has gotten less emphasis is the fact that G.O.P. legislative control is also undemocratic. Last month Democratic candidates received 54 percent of the votes in State Assembly elections — but they ended up with only 37 percent of the seats.
.. In other words, Wisconsin is turning into Hungary on the Great Lakes, a state that may hold elections, but where elections don’t matter, because the ruling party retains control no matter what voters do.
.. As far as I can tell, not a single prominent Republican in Washington has condemned
- the power grab in Wisconsin,
- the similar grab in Michigan, or even
- what looks like outright electoral fraud in North Carolina.
.. Elected Republicans don’t just increasingly share the values of white nationalist parties like Fidesz or Poland’s Law and Justice; they also share those parties’ contempt for democracy. The G.O.P. is an authoritarian party in waiting.
.. Which is why we should be grateful for Trump. If he weren’t so flamboyantly awful, Democrats might have won the House popular vote by only 4 or 5 points, not 8.6 points.
.. And in that case, Republicans might have maintained control — and we’d be well along the path to permanent one-party rule.
Instead, we’re heading for a period of divided government, in which the opposition party has both the power to block legislation and, perhaps even more important, the ability to conduct investigations backed by subpoena power into Trump administration malfeasance.
.. But this may be no more than a respite. For whatever may happen to Donald Trump, his party has turned its back on democracy. And that should terrify you.
.. The fact is that the G.O.P., as currently constituted, is willing to do whatever it takes to seize and hold power. And as long as that remains true, and Republicans remain politically competitive, we will be one election away from losing democracy in America.
Congress and the public must now push for protections for the special counsel.
As ethics experts, we believe Mr. Whitaker should recuse himself from the investigation. If we have ever seen an appearance of impropriety in our decades of experience, this is it: a criminal subject president appointing his own prosecutor — one who has evidently prejudged aspects of the investigation and mused about how it can be hampered.
.. Whether or not Mr. Whitaker steps aside, Mr. Trump’s audacity now demands additional safeguards. Congress must quickly put in place a plan to protect the Russia investigation before President Trump makes any further efforts to control the special counsel’s office.
.. Our proposed solution is based upon one devised by, of all people, Robert Bork when he was the acting attorney general during Watergate. Mr. Whitaker or whoever becomes the next acting attorney general must provide the same protections against interference that Mr. Bork provided to the special Watergate prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, in a 1973 Justice Department order. Mr. Jaworski received the protections as part of agreeing to replace the previous prosecutor, Archibald Cox, who was fired in the infamous Saturday Night Massacre.
The Bork order contained much stronger provisions to protect the independence of the special prosecutor investigation than is now found in the Department of Justice guidelines that govern the Mueller inquiry. These enhanced protections should be demanded from any new person given responsibility to oversee the Mueller investigation:
● The attorney general, acting or permanent, will not remove the special counsel except for extraordinary improprieties.
● The special counsel shall not be subject to the day-to-day supervision of any Justice Department official. The attorney general shall not countermand or interfere with the special counsel’s decisions or actions.
Judge Kavanaugh must have studied earlier confirmation hearings carefully, as he had absorbed all of their key lessons: Say nothing, say it at great length, and then say it again.
.. His confirmation would represent the culmination of a decades-long project of the conservative legal movement
.. Democratic senators sought assurances, for instance, that Judge Kavanaugh was not “a human torpedo being launched at the Mueller investigation,” as Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, put it.
They wanted a promise that Judge Kavanaugh would be independent of Mr. Trump, asking him, for instance, to promise to recuse himself from cases arising from Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of the president.
Judge Kavanaugh refused. Making such a commitment, he said, would jeopardize his judicial independence.
.. Judge Kavanaugh’s general strategy was summarized in a 1981 memorandum prepared by a young White House lawyer who had been assigned the job of preparing Justice Sandra Day O’Connor for her confirmation hearings... The memo’s author was John Roberts, and he took his own advice at his 2005 confirmation hearings to become chief justice of the United States... he demonstrated a seemingly complete command of Supreme Court precedent.
He was knowledgeable but not glib, effortlessly summoning the names and summarizing the details of old decisions without indicating how they would apply to new controversies.
.. Judge Kavanaugh was less sure-footed when the questions turned from the law to his own actions.
.. “The point of having public hearings is so relevant issues can be vetted, not just for the senators but for all of us. I fear that this hearing may represent a move away from that, and back to the days of confirmations as back room deals.”
.. He used a rare colorful phrase in refusing to answer questions about Mr. Trump’s attacks on the judiciary. “I’m not going to get within three ZIP codes of a political controversy here,” he said.
“The Democrats made a fairly strong case that Judge Kavanaugh is very partisan and loyal to the president,” he said. “The nominee’s refusal to criticize the president in his attacks against the judicial branch didn’t help his case.”
.. “Justice Ginsburg’s favored technique took the form of a pincer movement,” Justice Kagan wrote.
- If a question was too specific, she would decline to answer on the ground that she did not want to forecast a vote.
- If it was too general, she would say a judge should not deal in abstractions or hypothetical questions.
Professor Kagan explained what had counted as too specific: “Roughly, anything that might have some bearing on a case that might someday come before the court.” She also described what had been too general: “Roughly, anything else worthy of mention.”
.. his calculated praise for United States v. Nixon, the 1974 decision in which the Supreme Court unanimously ordered President Richard M. Nixon to comply with a trial subpoena to turn over Oval Office recordings. The decision would, of course, be the leading precedent if a dispute arising from the Mueller investigation reached the Supreme Court.
.. But Judge Kavanaugh ranked it among the Supreme Court’s greatest hits.
Those included, he said, just three others:
- Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 decision that ruled segregated public schools unconstitutional;
- Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company v. Sawyer, the 1952 decision rejecting President Harry S. Truman’s attempt to seize the nation’s steel mills to aid the war effort in Korea; and
- Marbury v. Madison, the 1803 decision that established the basis for the Supreme Court’s power of judicial review.
.. But where Judge Kavanaugh responded to questions about Roe with equivocation, he embraced the Nixon case.
“It was one of the greatest moments because of the political pressures of the time,” he said. “The courts stood up for judicial independence in a moment of national crisis.”
Still, he drew the line at saying whether, say, a grand jury subpoena calling for Mr. Trump’s testimony should be enforced. That would, he said, require him to answer a hypothetical question.
If things go as planned, one day soon Chinese trains will pull into Kathmandu, Nepal, on a new railroad built to lessen the landlocked Himalayan country’s dependence on India.
.. It’s time to acknowledge that in raw economic terms China has comprehensively outpaced India. If winning regional influence depends on building ports and railroads abroad, or dazzling visitors with skyscrapers and broad boulevards at home, then India’s prospects look bleak.
Compared with China, however, India remains a bastion of free speech, minority rights and judicial independence. New Delhi ought to play to these traditional strengths by deepening them.
.. On Monday, China blocked HBO.com after comedian John Oliver ran a segment that discussed Mr. Xi’s alleged touchiness about his purported resemblance to Winnie the Pooh.
.. it wasn’t always a certainty that China would pull ahead. According to the World Bank, as recently as 1990 India’s per capita income ($364) was higher than China’s ($318). Paradoxically, China’s communists unleashed market forces more effectively than their democratically elected counterparts in India.
.. Four years ago, Mr. Modi looked set to enact the sweeping reforms India needs to eradicate poverty and catch up with China. But despite a few successes, such as a national goods and services tax and a bankruptcy law that makes it easier to exit a failed business, the Indian prime minister disappointed. He more resembles his lackluster socialist predecessors than a market-friendly East Asian leader.
.. India’s archaic labor laws suppress job growth by making it extremely hard to fire workers during a downturn.
.. With a per capita income of $8,100, the average Chinese is nearly five times as rich as the average Indian. The gap has widened over the past 10 years.
.. 48 of the world’s 100 tallest buildings are in China. None are in India.
.. the ruling Bharatiya has earned a reputation for intimidating reporters with massive lawsuits, pressuring media barons to sack unfriendly editors, and using lap-dog television channels and a vicious troll army to smear political opponents.