Author’s note: the conduct of Trump and his people since I wrote this have only furthered the dangerous trends highlighted below; the names may change or be added to, but the destruction of the rule of law and democratic norms remain the goals.
Team Trump’s assaults on Mueller and McCabe are only the latest salvos in an intensifying Trump/GOP war on the rule of law and democracy itself
Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse March 19, 2018
By Brian E. Frydenborg (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter@bfry1981) March 19th, 2018
Photo by author
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AMMAN/TEL AVIV/HAIFA — One can easily go back to the domestic tyranny of Athenian democracy in ancient Greece, of the will of the demos often trampling over minority rights, to begin a long history of systems that were somewhat democratic and then failed, or democratic in appearance but oppressive in spirit. These systems had little protection for dissenters and/or minorities, and used democracy for some to destroy it for others. They were Tocquevillian tyrannies of the majority, built on exclusion of both “the other” and those not in lock-step with the ruling faction.
Such systems are obvious in Erdoğan’s Turkey, Putin’s Russia, Duterte’s Philippines, but less obvious in many other places.
And today, under the leadership of Donald Trump and an increasingly craven Republican Party, the United States of America is moving in this direction.
I’m old enough to remember a time, not so long ago, when both major parties could be counted on to support the rule of law—a core foundation of true democracy—at a bare minimum.
That is no longer the case.
At this point, it would be good to understand what we mean when we say “democracy.” In a pure, technical sense, there are no democracies today: every modern national system avoids direct rule by the demos, the people, in favor of a system in which the demos choose from among themselves a number of representatives to govern.
Modern democracy can be understood to transcend the 1.) necessary but not sufficient mechanism of popular elections and to extend to include among the sufficient conditions: 2.) a justice and law enforcement system that is applied relatively equally and not used as a political tool of self-empowerment and oppression of others by those in power (this necessitates some degree of judicial independence), i.e., “rule of law”, 3.) a free press that can hold all parties accountable and provide an accurate picture of reality to the public, 4.) and a population free to express itself and not stupid enough to be manipulated by propaganda and demagogues, that can make at least somewhat informed decisions based on reality (although organized differently, these requirements roughly line up with the UN General Assembly’s list of the “essential elements” of democracy).
The typical political candidate usually asks you to vote for her to use the system and improve it to benefit you, the voter.
Trump and many of his fellow Republicans campaign to go to war with the system, to destroy.
By their virtue and abilities and with the power of the people behind them, they will sweep away the bureaucracy, institutions, politicians, laws, rules, and norms that supposedly hold us back. There is no love or praise of the system or working within it; the system is rotten to the core, there’s nothing to work with, it only has flaws, deserves only anger and contempt. They need to take existing legitimate problems and grossly exaggerate their intensity or to completely fabricate problems that do not exist but that play into people’s preconceived notions and prejudices to create a climate where their obscenities become acceptable.
Orwell would most masterfully present to the world in his masterpiece 1984 with its concept of Newspeak the language of such politics, a formal language of propaganda, deception, and control: “The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of [the regime], but to make all other modes of thought impossible.” Umberto Eco noted Orwell’s Newspeak makes “use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning.”
There can be little doubt that this describes what Trump and his advance guard of language warrior beserkers are doing today in their war on reality. Such propaganda and the sheer stupidity of many people dancing together emerge in a horror of a feedback loop: more and more people are receptive to more and more absurd lies and distortions that only help to increase the numbers of the herd of credulous creatures lapping up lies like manna from Heaven.
The dire threat to democracy today is the weaponization of the press (with which Trump is already long at war) concurrent with weaponizing the people, who, in turn, weaponize elections, the victors of which, in turn, can weaponize the justice and legal system into a political tool to stay in power, reward supporters and punish opponents, and control or bend the media to its will, corrupting or destroying all four of the key elements of healthy democracy. If this is allowed to happen, it is always with some combination of the ignorance of those voters who buy into the rulers’ propaganda, voters’ tacit approval, and/or voters’ enthusiastic embrace of a system that explicitly favors them and explicitly discriminates and punishes those with differing views and/or identities; it is always because of, not in spite of huge swaths of the population.
Thus, Trump and his Republican allies target the justice system—the FBI, including former Director James Comey, the just-heavily-pressured-to-resign and now formally fired former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, and the FBI agents conducting the Russia probe; the Department of Justice, including Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his staff and their Russia probe, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and his predecessor, Sally Yates, as well as former tough-on-Russia U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara; various courts and federal judges, including the FISA court and its Republican-appointed judges; and other people and agencies—the professionals of which dare to serve the Constitution as their oath demands before serving Trump the man and his partisan agenda.
The firing of McCabe, the “memo” baselessly attacking the FBI and Justice Department from the ridiculous and disgraced Trump acolyte Devin Nunes, Nunes’s fellow House Intel Republicans nakedly trying to cover for Trump in prematurely ending their Committee’s investigation into Trump and Russia and their baselessly disputing the intelligence community’s strong consensus that Putin acted to help Trump and hurt Clinton in the 2016 election, and now calls from Team Trump to terminate Mueller’s probe (and just after it was revealed that Mueller subpoenaed the Trump Organization for Russia-related documents) along with more Tweets from the president himself attacking those involved in the Russia investigation—including Trump’s first direct attack against Mueller and his team—are just the latest salvos in a clear effort to not only clearly obstruct justice turn the people against true non-partisan public servants in the justice system and to pave the way for partisan hacks eager to do Trump’s bidding, an effort that (of course) has the full and active support of Putin’s Kremlin and its army of cyber-Cossacks.
We are seeing with Trump-appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions a clear lack of vigor in pursuing civil rights and voting rights/suppression cases so central to allowing fair play in our society and elections, a lack of vigor that directly aids GOP efforts to twist elections in ways that tip the odds considerably in its favor. We are seeing that Trump’s allies in Congress seek to undermine everything related to the Russia probe and, instead, call for unwarranted investigations into Trump opponents—including Hillary Clinton—or even those investigating him. Trump and the GOP-dominated Congress will also have the opportunity to appoint and confirm more federal judges in his first term than any president in the last 40 years. All of these bits and pieces add up to a very real danger of a one-party state in which the rules and laws are twisted to allow that party to unfairly maintain control, in which the levers of justice and law enforcement are used as tools to suppress efforts to challenge this unfair use of what is supposed to be “a government of laws, and not of men,” to quote John Adams.
This is what happens in Turkey, Russia, and the Philippines, as well as in many other places more outwardly autocratic when a new leader comes to power and cleans house, installing minions ready to serve the Dear Leader, not the people or the state. In these places, the Dear Leader equates himself with the state and loyalty to himself with patriotism for the nation; Trump isn’t even being careful about his attempts to do just that.
With Rachel Brand, the no. 3 top official at the Department of Justice, resigning earlier this year, if Rosenstein quits or is fired or also has to recuse himself, Trump will likely have the Department’s leadership in his pocket, led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and whatever likely partisan loyalists Trump appoints and Republicans confirm to replace Brand and/or Rosenstein. This could place Mueller’s entire Russia probe into jeopardy, since, with Sessions having had to recuse himself from the Russia probe (which enraged Trump) because of his own Russian entanglements, the replacements of Brand and Rosenstein could act on behalf of Trump and end the investigation with little to stand in their way. And we now that Trump is even considering firing Sessions and replacing him with Trump loyalist and current E.P.A. head Scott Pruitt, who would not be under obligation to recuse himself and could easily squash Mueller’s entire probe.
This is not normal, and this is entirely unprecedented in American history. The people and the media and elections failed, their pillars crumbling, to prevent a man who so clearly had contempt for the rule of law from becoming president; now, the last pillar that can prevent us from a real danger of becoming a banana republic—a generally professionally-run non-politically-partisan justice system that is faithful first and foremost to the Constitution and its rule of law—is under siege. The women and men manning its ramparts are doing an exemplary job of standing up to tyranny, but they need help from the people and the press and elections that will punish those laying siege, not reward them.
See related articles by the same author on Comey firing: With Comey Firing, Trump Moves America Closer to Banana Republic Status; How We Respond Is Vital to Preserving Our Democracy and on much of the deep history Mueller is almost certainly looking into between Team Trump & Team Russia: Think You Know How Deep Trump-Russia Goes? Think Again: This Chart/Info Will Blow Your Mind; also see his June 22, 2017, article for The Jordan Times: Ideal governance in ‘the rule of law, and not of men’
© 2018 Brian E. Frydenborg all rights reserved, permission required for republication, attributed quotations welcome
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