Thursday, February 2, 2017

How serious is the Trump threat?

I remember the furor over Dick Cheney's secretive machinations during Duhbya's presidency. The VP was the consummate power behind the throne, a man almost ludicrously easy to caricature as a venomous spider whose web enmeshed his nominal boss. I also remember Karl Rove casting a similarly malevolent shadow over the country: his contempt for mere facts bespoke a fearsome confidence in his ability to fool (or whip up) enough of the people, enough of the time. In my darkest moments, I was convinced either Cheney or Rove was ready to throw over the Constitution in favor of retaining power for himself (via the easily manipulated Duhbya).

I think no more fondly of either man today. However, I must admit that as clear and present dangers, they came nowhere near the obscenely public heights our new Dear Leader has scaled in just his first two weeks.

Consider the firing of acting Attorney General Sally Yates. She issued a statement expressing her serious doubts as to the lawfulness of Dear Leader's executive order banning the citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the U.S., an order she (rightly) interpreted as the closest Dear Leader could get to the outright "Muslim ban" he promised during the campaign. (The closest for now, anyway).

Dear Leader claims his staff ran the idea past other DOJ lawyers and got an "okay", but as Yates pointed out, Dear Leader didn't let those lawyers consider the context surrounding the order, including Donnie's own statements during the campaign.

If you or I expressed doubts about the order's legality, Dear Leader could brush off our objections. I, for one, am not a lawyer, and even if you are, you're not paid to advise him.

The Attorney General, on the other hand, is the person that the entire country pays to have an opinion on such a weighty matter. A President doesn't have to agree with his AG, but if he gives a shit about maintaining a lawful regime — if he gives a shit about even looking like he's maintaining a lawful regime — he can't brush the AG off.

Yet that's what Dear Leader did. His argument? Essentially, "It's my way or the highway — oh, and you're a partisan hack who wants to keep the country defenseless".

"No president should put up with insubordination." That's the argument Sean Spicer and Dear Leader's other surrogates have been making since DL took power. At first blush, that's a reasonable position. But is it insubordination for a member of the executive branch to say, "Whoa, these marching orders are hopelessly ill-defined and possibly illegal; please, let's talk about them", as Yates did? Or is that the oft-maligned bureaucracy actually justifying its existence by trying to prevent the president from making an ass of himself — or worse, committing impeachable offenses?

Even Dear Leader has to admit that the order was so ill-conceived and so badly drawn up that its enactment fomented chaos nationwide. (One plausible argument making the rounds is that the chaos was intentional.) Yates' objections were well-founded and her statements were intended to prevent the DOJ from being put in an intolerable bind. Thus the insubordination argument doesn't hold water: she wasn't bucking Dear Leader to spite him, she was fulfilling her Constitutional responsibility to uphold the law. Yet Dear Leader casually dismissed her as a rebellious troublemaker, and shortly afterward just as casually dismissed her from her job.

So let there be no doubt: Donnie doesn't brook dissent in the ranks. Nobody in his administration is going to be curbing his impulses. Only Congress and the courts can keep him from doing what he wants.

Or can they?

Congress is basically irrelevant to this discussion. Unless it votes to defund Dear Leader's priorities, a highly unlikely occurrence absent every Republican member suffering major head trauma, our legislature is not going to stand in Dear Leader's way. Some of these people, remember, have firsthand experience going up against Dear Leader politically — and losing.

The courts, on the other hand, are less vulnerable to naked political considerations, and constitutionally speaking they have the final say as to whether Dear Leader's orders and measures are lawful. Indeed, the Supreme Court's authority to declare something lawful (or not) is the final word in our system.

Except ... the courts have no actual means of enforcement. (Nor does Congress, for that matter.) To enforce the law, we have law enforcement, and at the federal level, who controls law enforcement? The executive branch — that is, Dear Leader. Really, the federal courts rely on presidential administrations to be voluntarily law-abiding, and to date, most have been. The most glaring exception was Richard Nixon's administration, and it scared the whole country for a time. In the end, only Nixon's old-school respect for the norms of political office (i.e., "if Congress impeaches you, you're cooked") defused what otherwise came perilously close to being a Constitutional crisis.

It's crystal clear Donnie lacks even a hint of the sense of civic responsibility and respect for the nation's institutions that kept Nixon from holding onto power. Dear Leader is corrupt and doesn't care if we suspect (hey, how about those tax returns, Donnie?). He and his cronies have only contempt for the so-called establishment (that contempt is practically their brand). What if that includes the courts? Is it so hard to imagine Donnie ignoring court decisions, even Supreme Court decisions, he doesn't like?

And if he held himself and his administration above and beyond the law, who would rein him in?

Would we have to hope that his illegal orders were defied by the personnel tasked with carrying them out?

Would the rule of law depend on the individual consciences of thousands of executive-branch employees, including peace officers at a myriad of agencies?

One current hypothesis making the rounds is that Dear Leader, aided and abetted by his personal Rasputin, Steve Bannon, is undertaking a slow-motion, low-profile coup. If true, it reminds me — and forgive me for going to this place so early in Donnie's term — of Hitler's maneuvering to seize total power in 1932-33. He gained the Chancellorship within the letter of contemporary German law, but immediately thereafter, he used his power to make drastic changes in that law to ensure his own position would be strengthened beyond challenge.

Is that Donnie and Steve's game plan?

How dark are the shadows that Dear Leader and his cronies are casting?

How serious is the threat Trump poses to our way of life?