Trump’s War on the Courts, the Press, and the States
Republicans in the majority in Congress and unwilling to cross Donald Trump, the job of containing Trump’s
incipient tyranny falls to three centers of independent power: the nation’s courts, its press, and a few state governments.
Which is why Trump is
escalating attacks on all three.
After federal Judge James
Robart – an appointee of George W. Bush – stayed Trump’s travel ban last
Friday, Trump leveled a personal attack on the judge. “The opinion of this
so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country,
is ridiculous and will be overturned!” Trump tweeted Saturday morning.
This was followed by
another, late Sunday night: “Just cannot believe a judge would put our country
in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system.”
For a President to personally attack a federal judge who disagrees with him is a dangerous
overstepping of presidential power.
As Alexander Hamilton
famously wrote in the Federalist No. 78, the
judiciary is the “least dangerous” branch of government because it has “no
influence over either the sword or the purse.” It depends for its power and legitimacy on congress
and the president.
Mike Pence tried to defend
Trump, saying “the president of the United States has every
right to criticize the other two branches of government. And we have a long
tradition of that in this country.”
Wrong. While other
presidents have publicly disagreed with court decisions, none before Trump has gone after
individual judges with personal invective. None has tried to intimidate individual judges. None has questioned the legitimacy of the courts.
Trump is on the warpath against Robart because he defied Trump.
Speaking to the U.S.
Central Command on Monday, Trump veered off his prepared remarks to make a
remarkable claim: The media was intentionally covering up reports of terrorist
“You’ve seen what happened
in Paris, and Nice,” Trump told the assembled military officers. “It’s
gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported. And in many cases the
very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it. They have their reasons,
and you understand that.”
Trump thereby elevated his
advisor Kellyanne Conway’s “Bowling Green massacre” justification for his travel ban – a massacre that she claimed the press had failed to cover, but which in fact never occurred
– to a higher and vaster level of conspiracy.
What could be the press’s
reason for covering up terrorist attacks, in Trump’s mind? What is it that Trump assumed the
military officers “understood?”
The only possible
inference is Trump believes that the press – like Judge Robart – seeks to imperil our nation, because it doesn’t cow tow to Donald Trump.
State governments pose a third line of defense against Trump. Several state attorneys general have taken Trump’s travel ban to court, and one particularly large Democratic state – California – has defied him on immigration and the environment. So Trump is directed his
ire against these states as well.
In a televised interview
Sunday, Trump threatened to take federal dollars away from California. “We give
tremendous amounts of money to California … California in many ways is out
of control …. We may have to [defund California]. Certainly that would be a
weapon,” he told Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly,
A weapon for what? What could Trump have been
talking about? The federal government doesn’t give tremendous amounts of money
to California, at least not net dollars. In fact, Californians send more tax
dollars to the federal government each year than the state gets back from the
Fiscally, California isn’t
“out of control.” Since 2013, the state has operated with a budget surplus.
That’s more than can be said for the federal government. Or for Trump’s own
business, for that matter.
Trump’s real beef is
California is independent of him. It has defied Trump with its high environmental standards and “sanctuary” cities. Even worse, from his standpoint, its citizens voted against him in the 2016 election by 2 to 1, for a total of over
4 million votes. He can’t seem to get this out of his mind.
Trump has repeatedly
suggested that millions of those votes were fraudulent. Last week, Trump spokesman Sean Spicer identified California as
one of the “bigger states” that merit a federal probe into election fraud,
adding, “That’s where I think we’re gonna look.”
But Trump has no evidence of
voter fraud in California, or any other state for that matter.
For Trump, evidence is irrelevant. California needs to be taught a lesson – just as do
Judge Robart and other members of the federal judiciary who defy him, just as
do journalists and media outlets that criticize him. And what is that lesson? That
they dare not cross Trump.
The judiciary, the press,
and California are major centers of resistance to Trump, because they are independent of him. So he’s escalating his attacks on them.
Trump doesn’t want any resistance. He wants total control.
He is a radical left-winger often described as a Gallic Bernie Sanders, and was viewed as a complete political outsider just three weeks ago.
Benoit Hamon handily won France’s Socialist Party primary on Sunday, making him the party’s best hope to maintain its grip on power in presidential elections this spring.
A clear majority of the more than 1.3 million voters in the primary cast ballots for Hamon, crushing the political hopes of former Prime Minister Manuel Valls, an economic liberal who had been seen as the favorite heading into the election.
The Socialists have governed France under the increasingly unpopular President Francois Hollande for four years, and are given little chance in the presidential election this spring. But as Hamon has already demonstrated, political fortunes can change.
3 presidential powers you should know about before you vote
1. Can presidents start a (de facto) war without Congress? Actually, yes
Technically, a president can’t declare war without Congress’ permission, but as commander in chief of the U.S. armed forces, presidents have a lot of wiggle room: Every officer in every branch of the military ultimately reports to the president.
Indeed, the president has autonomy to decide, for instance, where soldiers get stationed and what they should do when they get there. Thus in Vietnam and Korea, American presidents were able to send U.S. troops into battle “without an official war declaration”
2. Presidents can unilaterally change trade agreements. Trade war, anyone?
Another area in which the president can act nearly unilaterally is trade.
As University of Michigan economist Justin Wolfers has noted, while it’s technically Congress’s job to “regulate commerce with foreign nations,” those powers over time have increasingly come under executive purview.
What Obama opposers were worried about: their excess money being taken away and given to someone who needs it more, being too nice and accidentally letting bad people into the country, conspiracy theories about the president that confirmed their racist and islamophobic views
What Trump opposers are worried about: having essential human rights taken away, having freedom of speech taken away, having access to lifesaving medical care denied, vulnerable refugees from other countries being denied sanctuary, widespread and government-sanctioned racism, sexism, antisemitism, islamophobia, and homophobia, women’s reproductive rights being taken away, having journalistic integrity and the reporting of facts refuted by the government to gaslight the populace, presidential power rising to the point of dictatorship, government backing of war atrocities by Vladimir Putin, the rise of white nationalist and nazi groups, mass government censorship, being deported, being killed by police, having the president insult other world leaders and cause a nuclear war…
For some background - US politics has always been a big part of my life. The year I was born, my father was running for mayor in the state capital I currently reside in. He dedicated most of his life to being a political consultant, advising campaigns to raise money for schools, libraries and public parks. He loved debating with me, even when we disagreed, because he wanted me to think critically about the information being spouted by various pundits. My first job was working for him processing polling data. I was raised to believe that political action was one of the strongest tools we have to build a better world and strengthen our communities.
While I was understandably upset throughout the course of this evening, I was able to hold myself together. That is, until I thought about what my father would say if he could see this. How I would normally be calling him tonight to commiserate. How he would reassure me about the limitations of presidential power, how many of Trump’s campaign promises are unfeasible or outright unconstitutional, how he barely has the support of his own party in terms of other career politicians. I thought about how every visit to his hospital room this summer devolved into banter about the insanity of this election cycle.
My father passed away unexpectedly last 4th of July and I hate the fact that for the briefest moment tonight, I thought “I’m glad he doesn’t have to see this.”
It hurts right now. I’m scared, less of Trump and more of the America that elected him. It isn’t the end of the world, but that hasn’t stopped me from falling into a cycle of nausea, numbness and tears.
I wish this post could be wrapped up with some neat conclusion, but I just… can’t. I’ve got nothing. I’m too upset, too disappointed, to function right now.