Events unfolding around the country are the previews for coming attractions, and it won’t be fun. To look at what is happening in Portland Oregon one might see a trial run for more such activity — currently announced for, or underway in, Kansas City, Chicago and Albuquerque.
Going forward, remember that this is all right from the autocracy 101 hand book. I will explain my thinking in this piece, but two major things are happening. One is that Mr. Donald J. Trump is trying to get video to support his campaign claim that the cities are out of control and that “only I can fix it.” Second, and far more ominously, he is laying the ground work for declaring martial law leading into the election. Mr. Trump and his campaign know that he cannot win solely through the support of his base. He needs to keep people from voting for his opponent — voter suppression — and one way to do that is to intimidate the electorate and to make it too hard to vote. It is an election strategy that comes at the expense of American cities and their citizens. It threatens the very foundation of our democracy.
As a reminder, federal law enforcement units in full combat gear have been on the streets in Portland for about ten days. Theoretically, they are there to protect the federal court house from protesters. In fact, they have been patrolling the streets of the city picking up people that look like they might be willing to foment trouble. Let’s dive into this further.
The federal government has a duty and a right to protect federal property from destruction. In cases such as the court house in Portland, this would normally entail coordinating with the local city and state authorities for a cohesive plan and would amount to a defensive — rather than offensive — effort to keep trouble makers away. None of this is happening. There is no apparent coordination with local authorities — indeed the mayor and governor have explicitly asked those forces to leave — and they are definitely using offensive tactics with rubber bullets, tear gas, pepper spray and other agents against the crowd. To be sure, there are trouble makers in the ranks of the protesters. However, the vast majority are peaceful. Additionally, with proper techniques and coordination, peaceful protesters are likely to cooperate in identifying the bad apples in the crowd as it is in the best interests of the other protesters to keep it peaceful and to not provoke an over reaction by law enforcement. By all credible accounts, after weeks of protests, the demonstrations in Portland had settled into a peaceful occasion and were slowly dwindling in size. That is until the federal authorities arrived and began using their storm trooper tactics. In military combat gear, the federal authorities wear no name tags or unit identification badges, only a small generic “police” tag on their camos. Reportedly, they are from the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agencies of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). One might ask who is guarding our borders from the supposed hoards coming across from Mexico if they are in Portland? One might also ask what training these particular agencies give to their agents regarding community policing?
If you think it is an exaggeration, look at this video of a Navy veteran trying to talk to some of the agents and getting beaten and pepper sprayed while not even raising his arms or making any threatening movements.
All of this on its own is bad. Very bad. But it portends worse things to come. Remember Mr. Trump’s words earlier this week.
“I’m going to do something, that I can tell you. Because we’re not going to let New York and Chicago and Philadelphia and Detroit and Baltimore and all of these — Oakland is a mess. We’re not going to let this happen in our country. Look at what’s going on — all run by Democrats, all run by very liberal Democrats. All run, really, by the radical left.”
So, first of all, only Democrat mayors are “bad.” Secondly, there are currently no violent demonstrations in Philadelphia, Detroit or Baltimore or other cities he is going to “dominate.” This is pure, unabashed partisan politics using federal law enforcement agencies for his personal gain.
Additionally, the hypocrisy is all too familiar. The rationale behind the Portland deployment is to protect against citizens expressing their First Amendment rights on federal property. In 2018 Mr. Trump gave full pardons to two Oregonians — father and son — that set fire in 2016 to 139 acres of federal land during Red Flag Warning conditions, endangering firefighters working on another fire nearby. It resulted in a 40 day armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by protesters supporting their cause. He considered these men to be patriots. Peaceful protesters in cities are considered to be criminals.
As I have written in this space before, I was very involved in figuring out Saddam Hussein’s next moves during Gulf War I. We figured out after awhile that he pretty much always announced what he intended to do. He couldn’t always carry it out, but he was pretty straightforward in his pronouncements. Mr. Trump is the same way. He announces exactly what he plans to do.
Here is the diabolical back drop to his strategy. In my 8 May piece “American Carnage” I wondered aloud about how Mr. Trump could have so badly botched the national response to the pandemic and opined that perhaps it was deliberate. I am now sure of it. He did not create the pandemic, but he is going to use it to his advantage. Similarly, he will use the Black Lives Matter movement to declare that they are terrorists working to destroy America. He already barely hides his racism in this regard. Yesterday in a speech he blamed Mexico (again) and the BLM protests for the spread of the Coronavirus in the South and Southwest. He repeatedly declares that if the Democrats win the election, they will “destroy the suburbs,” a not-so-subtle racist canard.
Many pundits and political experts, as well as average citizens, have wondered for weeks and months why Mr. Trump refuses to put forward a national effort to halt the pandemic and to address racial injustice. It dawned on me yesterday that as former Maryland Lt. Governor and National Republican Chairman Michael Steele explained on TV yesterday — this is his plan. In other words, he will use the chaos currently engulfing our country to his advantage. He will trot out again his beliefs that the the Constitution gives him “absolute power” and that “I alone can fix it.” These will form the basis for action on his part to interfere in an election that he is already claiming — nearly daily — is rigged. He is against mail-in ballots (even though he, his family, many of his aides and many service members vote by mail) and has installed a long-time ally as Postmaster General. Mail bags mysteriously disappearing? Mail trucks mysteriously bursting into flames? The imagination can run wild.
The point is that we will not succumb to an outright coup on his part. It will be gradual with incremental decisions and policies that set the stage for him to declare the election invalid and that he must stay on to save the country. He is on record multiple times, most recently in his Fox News interview with Mike Wallace, that he will not accept the outcome of the election if he thinks it’s rigged. Asked directly if he would accept the results he said,
“I have to see. Look — I have to see. No, I’m not just going to say yes. I’m not going to say no.”
Since many of the states will use mail-in ballots, it could be days or weeks before the official results are in. If the election is close as the polls close on Election Night, and the results change dramatically against Mr. Trump when the absentee, provisional and other ballots are counted, he could well declare the entire election a fraud and cancel it. He is on record with the 2018 Florida election — which was very close and looked as if it would go against his preferred candidates — as saying that only ballots counted on Election Day should be valid. He tweeted without offering a single piece of evidence,
“The Florida Election should be called in favor of Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis in that large numbers of new ballots showed up out of nowhere, and many ballots are missing or forged. An honest vote count is no longer possible — ballots massively infected. Must go with Election Night.”
Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis both won their races.
We already know that Mr. Trump will do anything that benefits him. There is no ethical, moral or legal bottom for him. He now has an Attorney General that acts as his personal attorney and shares Mr. Trump’s belief in an Imperial Presidency.
The U.S. military put Mr. Trump on notice after they were used in a political stunt at Lafayette Square in Washington D.C. for his bible thumping campaign photo op that they would not be used for political purposes. Thus, Mr. Trump went to his flunkies in DHS (the top position and most of the sub-agencies are headed by “acting” leaders that do not have Senate approval) in order to create his own personal police force to pursue his personal goals.
Some may think that this is a “Chicken Little” scenario. Alarmist. Couldn’t happen here. That’s not America. Stop hyperventilating. No way. I hope that you are correct. Personally, I am watching out for our “Reichstag Fire” moment.
As we all ponder the significance to our country of the many protests and responses to the horrific murder of Mr. George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, some local issues with national importance may be overlooked. In the end, all politics is local as former House Speaker Tip O’Neill once opined. In each locality and municipality we can work to improve our local community relationships and to ferret out the institutional racism that most citizens must now recognize.
Most striking to me in the video chronicling Mr. Floyd’s murder is the unabashed, even nonchalant way in which the officer pressed his knee into Mr. Floyd’s neck and held it there for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. It took my breath away to realize that the officers were equally unabashed at knowing numerous people were recording their actions even as those civilians pleaded with the officers to let him breathe. The officers just did not care. Clearly, they thought that there would be no retribution for their actions. There was no shame. While I firmly believe that by far the vast majority of law enforcement personnel are good people that do the right thing, in this case there must have been a climate in the Minneapolis police force that gave these officers a sense that there were no personal consequences to their actions.
In that vein, the climate in Washington D.C. is like a powder keg waiting for a spark to set it off. As in most cities, demonstrations have been quite peaceful, interrupted by periodic looting and destruction to buildings perpetrated by petty criminals and a small group of wing nut anarchists from both ends of the ideological spectrum. Yet, this is also a city problem that may have national repercussions.
You would not know that nearly all of the protests in the district, and indeed around the country, were peaceful if you only listened to the impeached Worst President Ever and all around vile human being Donald J. Trump or his side kick Attorney General William Barr. To me, the unprovoked attack on peaceful demonstrators assembled in Lafayette Square last Monday in the District, using rubber bullets, flash bang explosives and chemical weapons was a dangerous turning point. The only objective was to provide a photo-op for the president to strut around and hold up a Bible in front of historic St. John’s Church in a manner that seemed to convey that it was some symbolic object with which he was unfamiliar.
“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.” — of unknown origin.
Many of you have been to Washington D.C., either as tourists or because you live or work there. Still, it is worth reviewing the local political relationships to totally understand the danger inherent in the current situation. Washington is used to demonstrations. They happen all of the time. Many of them occur in Lafayette Square directly across (a closed) Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House. The Washington Police Department (officially the Metropolitan Police Department) is well trained and used to dealing with demonstrators. Here is the problem. The MPD does not have jurisdiction over the federal portions of the district. A plethora of federal law enforcement agencies have that jurisdiction depending on the situation. Additionally, Washington D.C. has a mayor and city council, but under the Home Rule Act passed by Congress in December 1973, any laws, regulations, actions by the city government and just about anything else that the Congress or federal government does not like can be over-ruled or thrown out. Indeed the federal government moved to federalize the MPD this week before vigorous political push back put that on temporary hold.
So here is the set up as I write. It is a very fluid situation that could change for the better or worse on short notice. The mayor and MPD in the district essentially have been shut out of dealing with their own citizens and controlling their own streets. The federal government, under the direct personal control of Mr. Trump’s very own Luca Brasi, Attorney General Barr, has taken over the city. As documented by the Washington Post, Washington is now an occupied city. There are at least sixteen federal law enforcement and military agencies with thousands of people on the ground. These agencies range from the obvious such as the FBI to the less obvious where agencies have been deputized and given unique authorities outside their charters to patrol the streets and make arrests including the Bureau of Prisons, the DEA, the ATF, ICE, Customs and Border Protection, to name a few. None of these organizations normally operate in the district to police the streets and many do not have training to manage peaceful demonstrations. More ominously, many have been recorded as being in riot gear without name badges, insignia or organizational badges. Never a good sign.
Additionally, 3300 National Guard troops from ten states are operating in the district. This is in addition to the 1200 National Guard troops from the district that are under federal control, rather than local. In the fifty states governors control the National Guard unless they are federalized in extreme conditions. The mayor of Washington has no control over the Guard coming from her own city.
Wait! There’s more!
1,600 regular Army troops from Ft. Bragg North Carolina and Ft. Drum New York are deployed in military bases within a 15 minute drive of downtown Washington. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper declared that he would not allow U.S. military forces to be used against Americans on the streets of the nation’s capital and ordered them back to their home bases. Within hours the president overrode that order and they remain in the D.C. area.
For what purpose, you may ask, does the city of Washington need 4500 Guard troops, 1600 regular Army troops and several thousand federal law enforcement agents? Good question, as the demonstrations in Washington have been generally peaceful and while large, not as big as in many other cities across the land.
There is one purpose and one purpose only. They are being used as political campaign talking points by Mr. Donald J. Trump so that he can say that he is “tough” and that the only way to deal with “domestic terrorists” (as of yesterday the FBI stated that they have no evidence of any terrorists among the protesters) is to “dominate” them. This while he sits in his basement and fortifies the White House — the People’s House — with extra defenses well beyond the grounds, and speaks of “vicious dogs” waiting to get at the demonstrators like some third world despot.
It is political theater.
But political theater with a cost. Not only does it trample the First Amendment rights of citizens to assemble peacefully to protest against policies — and yes, politicians — of which they disapprove, it significantly increases the mistrust on all sides and with so many elements at play it could easily blow up into a major tragedy where numerous civilians are injured or killed in the ensuing melee. It also puts law enforcement and troops in difficult situations that may cause retaliation and injury.
I put the heaviest blame on Congressional Republicans. Most cannot be found anywhere that will speak up against Mr. Trump’s boast to use American troops against American citizens. There is video available of reporters trying to get a comment from a large array of “name” Congressional Republicans. They should be embarrassed and hope that the tape gets lost. Most shuffled off while mumbling that they did not know anything about it. Some proclaimed they could not comment because they were late for lunch. Others just tried to pretend they did not hear the question. Yesterday, only Republican Senators Murkowski (Alaska) and Romney (Utah) finally spoke publicly against the use of troops in our cities. Shameful.
God help us if American Guardsmen or Army troops open fire on American citizens. I fear that we are not out of danger of that happening. In recent days former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, several former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and numerous Admirals and Generals have raised serious objections to the president’s boasts that he will send “thousands and thousands of heavily armed military personnel” to stop the “rioting.” All military personnel that I knew throughout my 28 year career in the naval service would join me in saying that we signed up to to defend the Constitution and to protect the American people, not to fight our neighbors in our cities’ streets.
There is no organized demonstration scheduled for tomorrow, Saturday 6 June. That is to say no one organization is planning for people to take to the streets like with the Women’s March. However, local media and social media are buzzing with news that people are going to come to Washington tomorrow in what could be one of the largest demonstrations so far. The MPD Chief is on record with his concern that it could be one of the largest the city has ever seen. More important than whether it is big, bigger or biggest is how the demonstrators and federal law enforcement forces face off against each other. Pray that it is peaceful but it has all the ingredients of a disaster.
As many of you know, I have worried for three years as to what lengths Mr. Trump will go to consolidate his power. His autocratic tendencies are well documented. He feels invincible after no one has stopped his relentless assault on our national norms and values. As an expert opportunist, it will not take much for him to make good on his promise to send troops into our streets to show that he is “very strong.” It helps him to successfully deflect from his total screw up in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic. Once the Army is deployed in Washington, what happens next? Where does he stop? How does it end? What if he loses the election and claims it was due to fraud? These are dangerous times.
I have faith in my fellow citizens. I have faith in our collective values. We will survive the struggle. In the short run, let’s hope that cooler heads prevail.
“You are a slow learner, Winston.”
“How can I help it? How can I help but see what is in front of my eyes? Two and two are four.”
“Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.”
— George Orwell in 1984
Our current president has always had a problem with the facts. Past presidents have often had an adversarial relationship with the press. We now reach new levels of concern as both trends continue to grow under one man. This week they reached very troubling levels.
In case you missed it, the president has been busy on Twitter again. Not content to fume and attempt to merely belittle the press, he now actively undermines it. Today Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders reached the same troubling level as did Presidential Adviser Kellyanne Conway’s infamous declaration that “we feel compelled to go out and clear the air and put alternative facts out there.”
Hardly anyone, whether paying attention or not, can be unaware of the president’s constant attack on the news media — except Fox and Friends of course. Constant. Fake news. Liars. On and on. You’ve heard it. It is far beyond normal criticism. Many of his tweets I take to be based either on his ego, or his perverted sense of humor, or some mostly spontaneous spasm of mind that causes him to blast the world with another tweet. I think his attacks on the media fall into a different category. The attacks have been relentless and continuous from well before his election. They have escalated in the time since he took office. I think the attacks are considered, premeditated, and part of a larger plan to make it difficult to separate truth from fiction and thus cover up his shenanigans and wrong doings in and out of government. It reached a new peak this week.
This past weekend he tweeted out (in this and all other tweets quoted the capitalization is all his):
“Fox News is MUCH more important in the United States than CNN, but outside of the U.S., CNN International is still a major source of (Fake) news, and they represent our Nation to the WORLD very poorly. The outside world does not see the truth from them!”
Another mindless attack? I think not. Especially I think not because the international reaction was swift. Those that support a free press were quick to condemn the tweet and those that would prefer to hide the truth from their populations — and the BBC and CNN International are the main reliable sources of information for many around the world as those of us that travel frequently know — can now point to the president of the United States as saying it is all fake and no one should believe it. Reckless behavior on the part of our president. This sure does help us promote democratic ideals. By the way, this week President Putin, the only person in the entire world our president refuses to criticize, required all U.S. reporters to register in Russia as “foreign agents”– reinforcing the idea that all news is propaganda and not real.
And it keeps getting worse.
Two days ago he tweeted:
“We should have a contest as to which of the Networks, plus CNN and not including Fox, is the most dishonest, corrupt and/or distorted in its political coverage of your favorite President (me). They are all bad. Winner to receive the FAKE NEWS TROPHY!”
Of note is the fact that a merger between AT&T and Time-Warner is blocked by the Justice Department. Time-Warner owns CNN. Whether or not you think the merger is a good idea for us as consumers we might be concerned that at one point the suggestion was made that if Time-Warner sold off CNN the merger would be approved. The issue is now heading to court and one can be sure that the lawyers on the side of the corporations will certainly bring up the many, many, many attacks on CNN from the president. In the military this is called “command influence.” The person in charge by deed or dialogue influencing, directly or indirectly, the outcome of what is supposed to be an impartial hearing.
It has now been widely reported that according to private conversations the president had with some friends and advisers, he now doubts the “authenticity” of the Access Hollywood tapes where he admits assaulting women. Additionally, to many of those same people he continues to espouse his belief that President Obama was born in Kenya. One wonders if he is Orwellian or just losing his grip.
And it keeps getting worse.
Today the president re-tweeted three inflammatory videos from “Britain First”, a white nationalist organization in the United Kingdom. All three were anti-Muslim. They have proven to be false and/or out of context. They were distributed by a hate group intent on enraging non-Muslims, perhaps to violence. British Prime Minister Theresa May felt compelled to put out a statement condemning our president for tweeting these videos, saying that it was “wrong.” The statement said in part:
“Britain First seeks to divide communities through their use of hateful narratives which peddle lies and stoke tensions. They cause anxiety to law-abiding people. British people overwhelmingly reject the prejudice of the far right, which is the antithesis of the values that this country represents: decency, tolerance, and respect. It is wrong for the president to have done this.”
Way to go Mr. President! And that’s from our closest ally.
Besides wondering why he would re-tweet something from that group in the first place, one might wonder what he is doing on a white nationalist web site anyway. Why? Why would the president patrol hate group web sites? Doesn’t he have other things to worry about such as, oh I don’t know, maybe that the North Koreans tested an ICBM that can reach all of the United States? Or maybe he has a staffer that patrols such web sites for him. Not really much better. Where are the filters? Oh, yea, I forgot. His is not a “conventional presidency.” Conventional or not I would think that there are certain conventions of human decency that should also apply to the President of the United States.
And it keeps getting worse.
After the realization set in of what the president had done, reporters asked White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders — the voice of the president to us as citizens and to the world as the voice of our nation — about it and she said that it didn’t matter if the videos are real or not. “Whether it’s a real video, the threat is real.” Mrs. Sanders, welcome to the Kellyanne Conway Club.
All of this in the span of a few days.
And it will keep getting worse.
Our president, and apparently those that work for him, have no respect for the First Amendment. We should be very concerned. His antipathy for anything even remotely critical of him is more than troublesome. He is creating an atmosphere where nothing can be trusted by anyone unless he says it is true. This is the first, most basic move of any autocrat.
Also recall that the president only allowed Russian media into his office when he met with the Russian Foreign Minister and Ambassador. (Where he famously — perhaps eventually infamously — bragged he fired FBI Director Comey and said “I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”)
Recall that the president agreed with Chinese President Xi Jinping that the press should not be allowed to ask questions during his visit to China earlier this month. The first time in memory that the President of the United States acquiesced to a dictator to keep the American press silenced.
Recall that during that same trip the president laughed when autocratic Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte responded to press questions by telling them no questions were allowed as they are “spies.” The same President Duterte that is on record saying “just because you’re a journalist you are not exempted from assassination if you’re a son of a bitch.”
These are but a few recent examples.
We might discuss whether the current administration is merely incompetent or malicious. Hard for me to say except as it pertains to freedom of the press. Regardless, the result is the same — a threat to our freedoms. I think the constant attacks against the press are part of a larger plan. They are not accidental or merely reflective of his natural tendency to lash out at criticism.
By nature I am not an alarmist. This pattern alarms me. He is doing great harm to our nation and to our friends and allies around the world. It is becoming “normal.” That worries me the most.
I think a tweet from General Michael Hayden (ret.), former director of the CIA says it best for me. In response to the president’s tweet about CNN (above) he wrote:
“If this is who we are or who we are becoming, I have wasted 40 years of my life. Until now it was not possible for me to conceive of an American President capable of such an outrageous assault on truth, a free press or the first amendment.”
The past six weeks or so have been tough on a lot of people from natural and man-made disasters. Multiple hurricanes, an earthquake, unprecedented wildfires, and a mass shooting all come to mind, to name a few of the major events since the summer. Tough going for a lot of people who will take months or years to fully recover. The loss of life is significant and the loss of property not only impacts people’s lives but also our national treasure. We as a nation need to stick with the recovery efforts even as the president seemed to imply yesterday that the “ungrateful” Puerto Ricans — American citizens all — are themselves largely responsible for their condition and should not count on continued federal assistance to recover.
Amidst all of the heartache and sadness, there have been incredible scenes and stories of every day people stepping up to do incredible things. The stories of human beings helping human beings are inspiring. These people stepped up not for the glory or reward but because it was the right thing to do. Many had lost their own homes or loved ones and yet they sallied forth over and over to help or rescue others even as their own lives were in danger. Truly inspiring and a refreshing reminder that at heart we are all the same and that the vast majority of people will come through for their fellow citizens when their backs are up against the wall.
What was truly refreshing about these countless stories is that they took place against the backdrop of the continuing circus unfolding in and around the White House. The Tumbling Tumbleweed Administration still values daily fights with the media and attacking anyone that looks at them cross-eyed. One is either a pandering sycophant or an “enemy of the state” according to this administration. The list of daily insults to our citizens and our nation is far too long to take on one by one and the pettiness and vindictiveness of this administration is ever more shameful when compared to the many uplifting actions taken in the wake of actual disasters, not the one’s unnecessarily created by the president. The president continues to tumble around in the wind of his perceived need to satisfy a “base” of about 30-40% of our nation rather than to provide a vision of how to lead the entire nation to address the serious issues facing this country.
Of grave concern to me is that the leaders of the Republican Party will not stand up on their hind legs and tell the president that he is just plain wrong about many issues. This is deeply concerning. Apparently the hope — and so far they have demonstrated that it is only a hope — of passing their “agenda” over rides their Constitutional duty as an equal branch of government to stand up to the president when he is wrong and/or out-of-bounds.
Thankfully there are a few canaries in the coal mine (how ironic since the administration is “stopping the war on coal”) who are willing to publicly voice their concerns. The common knowledge around Washington is that nearly every Senator and Representative is privately concerned over the president’s personal behavior and the potential damage to our country. Yet, only a few are willing to speak up.
Unfortunately, it needs to be Republicans that speak up as when Democrats do they are accused of partisanship or “playing politics” with important issues. (One might ask if it isn’t their political job to raise questions about issues as they occur.) This week two Republican Senators did speak up. Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) and Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) did so. Both were immediately personally attacked and belittled by the president.
In an interview with the New York Times Senator Corker said, among other things, that the president “concerns me. He would have to concern anyone who cares about our nation.” He went on to liken this administration to “a reality show” and as has been widely reported, the president is leading the country “on the path to World War III.” Anyone that follows such things knows that Senator Corker is a well-respected, conscientious individual that takes his duties seriously. While I do not agree with all of his ideas, he is well-versed in foreign affairs and national security and an acknowledged expert. If he is willing to speak out against a president of his own party, I see his words as a warning to the rest of us. We should be paying close attention.
Think of it this way. Yesterday in a press opportunity with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau the president was asked about any differences he might have with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson over North Korea. In the context of his, shall we say, mercurial temperament, his words were troubling. He opined that he might “have a little bit different attitude on North Korea than other people might have.” He acknowledged that he listens to his advisers but that “ultimately my attitude is the one that matters, isn’t it? That’s the way it works. That’s the way the system is. I think perhaps I feel stronger and tougher on that subject than other people, but I listen to everybody.”
This from the man who threatened to “totally destroy” the North Koreans and belittled his own Secretary of State for trying to resolve the issue through diplomatic channels.
Senator Sasse spoke up yesterday following a statement and a series of tweets from the president (I still can not believe that we conduct national affairs via Twitter) where he seemed to state that he would abridge the First Amendment rights of NBC news for broadcasting “fake news.” One sample:
“With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!”
For the moment, let’s look past the fact that NBC is not licensed by the federal government, individual local stations are, and that the president cannot take away their license. Just another case of the president being factually challenged, or not having the intellectual curiosity to actually know what he is talking about. But nothing new there.
Instead, let’s take it for what it is. The first, classic step of an authoritarian regime. Belittle institutions, question their integrity, claim that they are illegitimate, and then shut them down. History 101. Am I over reacting? I used to think that there was a lot of hyperbole around the doings of this president and that the basic nature of our Constitution and the safeguards there in would keep him in check. Now I am not so sure (and more on that later). In addition to the Constitution, the Founding Fathers assumed that certain norms and standards of behavior would naturally be part of the unwritten rules governing those in power. I would opine that assumption is now being challenged in terms of the moral and ethical behavior of the man in the White House.
We need more Senators, and other, yes Republican, politicians to speak out as Senator Sasse did yesterday when he asked the president (and of course, via Twitter):
Are you recanting of the Oath you took on Jan. 20 to preserve, protect, and defend the 1st Amendment?”
It is not normal for a president of these United States to call for the shutting down of a news outlet because he is mad about their reporting. Upset about it, sure. Most presidents get upset about some news report about some issue. But every day — well maybe not every day, but about 98% of the days — this president comes out with some new crazy thing that he says or does. Again, Senator Corker was a truth teller when he said, “I don’t know why the President tweets out things that are not true. You know he does it, everyone knows he does it, but he does.” This is not the America we know and love.
Here is where I almost fell over yesterday as analysts were discussing the state of affairs in the world vis-a-vis those in the White House. By all accounts the president feels that he is not in control and expects the rest of the government to respond to his commands and desires as they did when he was in his gilded tower in New York City. He is frustrated and ready to lash out. Guess where the one power lies that no one else can countermand or dispute? His role as Commander-in-Chief. The hyperbole surrounding who has their “finger on the button” to launch our nuclear arsenal now sounds more real. Throughout his campaign and now in his presidency he talks of our arsenal and its strength. Unfortunately, he talks about it in ways that make me think that he does not understand what he is talking about (see my 21 September post on “Deterrence 101”). Couple that with his comments about North Korea above (“my attitude is the one that matters”) and one could start to lose sleep at night.
To paraphrase Stan Oliver, “Well here’s another nice mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.” I have no magic solution. We need to hope that more officials in government step up and hold this president accountable. Stop the Tumbling Tumbleweed Administration from blowing aimlessly across the national landscape. Hold Congressional hearings to force the administration to articulate its policies and explain the strategy to implement them. Call out the president when he makes untrue and outrageous statements. Things have not gotten better with time and we now know that there will be no “pivot” and no learning curve. He is who he is and we know it. It won’t change. If only he had the empathy, understanding and feeling for his fellow citizens that those suffering in the disasters have demonstrated. But he does not. It is time to hold the Apprentice-in-Chief accountable for all of his actions.