Trump: Authoritarian Thread

This thread will be a repository for evidence that Trump behaves and thinks more like an autocrat than a leader of a democracy. Here’s something I saw today. Trump was asked if he thought Robert Mueller would be fair and this was his response, along with a comment about it (which I agree with) from Matthew Miller, who was a spokesperson for DOJ under Obama:

This also makes me think of Trump’s expression of anger and frustration at Jeff Sessions–specifically, that Sessions recused himself from the Russian investigation; that had he known that, Trump would never have chosen him as AG; that he had some respect for Eric Holder, AG under Obama, because Trump claimed that Holder defended Obama out of loyalty. This creates the strong impression that Trump doesn’t understand or doesn’t care about the independence of the DOJ or the AG and other federal appointees or workers are loyal to the Constitution, not the president. Trump doesn’t seem to understand or believe in the rule of law, but prefers, and sees no problem with, the rule of man.

7/18/2018

28 thoughts on “Trump: Authoritarian Thread

  1. Trump Ordered Mueller Fired, but Backed Off When White House Counsel Threatened to Quit (from the NYT)

    Whoa! For those who said Trump would never fire Mueller, now we know they’re almost certainly wrong. Even though this isn’t really surprising, this news still jolts me a little and unnerves me–I guess, it’s the reality of this hitting me.

    There’s also this:

    Another option that Mr. Trump considered in discussions with his advisers was dismissing the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, and elevating the department’s No. 3 official, Rachel Brand, to oversee Mr. Mueller.

    And apropos of this thread,

    Mr. Trump has long demonstrated a preoccupation with those who have overseen the Russia investigation. In March, after Mr. McGahn failed to persuade Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself from the inquiry, Mr. Trump complained that he needed someone loyal to oversee the Justice Department.

    The former F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, said Mr. Trump asked him for loyalty and encouraged him to drop an investigation into his former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn. Mr. Comey said he sidestepped those requests. He was soon fired.

    (emphasis added)

    Also, a few days ago there was an Axios story, FBI director threatened to resign amid Trump, Sessions pressure

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions — at the public urging of President Donald Trump — has been pressuring FBI Director Christopher Wray to fire Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, but Wray threatened to resign if McCabe was removed, according to three sources with direct knowledge.

    Edit (1/27/2018)

    From WaPo: Trump sought release of classified Russia memo, putting him at odds with Justice Department

    The intervention with Sessions, which has not previously been reported, marked another example of the president’s year-long attempts to shape and influence an investigation that is fundamentally outside his control. Trump, appearing frustrated and at times angry, has complained to confidants and aides in recent weeks that he does not understand why he cannot simply give orders to “my guys” at what he sometimes calls the “Trump Justice Department,” two people familiar with the president’s comments said.

    Later,

    As Mueller narrows his probe — homing in on the ways Trump may have tried to impede the Russia investigation — a common thread ties many of the incidents together: A president accustomed to functioning as the executive of a private family business who does not seem to understand that his subordinates have sworn an oath to the Constitution rather than to him.

    On Wednesday, speaking briefly to reporters, Trump defended his actions in the probe as “fighting back” against unfair allegations. “Oh, well, ‘Did he fight back?’ ” Trump said. “You fight back, ‘Oh, it’s obstruction.’ ”

    (The thought that’s in my mind:) Trump has zero understanding of the importance of DOJ being largely independent of the POTUS, he doesn’t seem to understand or believe that this is really problematic and dangerous threat to the country, which is a democratic republic. Either that, or he doesn’t care–that he’s seeking to erase the barriers between his office and the DOJ. If this is true, then Trump, himself, is a serious threat to our county.

    4/9/2018

    DOJ’s Southern District of New York raided offices, home, and apartment of Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen today. Because of attorney-client privilege, getting approval to this is not easy.

    Trump’s reaction:

    Trump equating this raid with an “attack on our country in a true sense.”
    Trump repeatedly calling the Mueller investigation a “witch hunt.”
    Trump saying this is really unfair, citing that this is spurred by Democrats (and a few Republicans)–Comey, Mueller–Republicans. Trump appointed Rosenstein and Sessions (obviously). The Attorney in the SDNY also was appointed by Trump (and Trump broke protocol by interviewing him).

    Time to ask Congressional Republicans what they will do if Trump fires Mueller or Rosenstein.

    Sessions did this, on advice of career DOJ staff, because Sessions was involved with the Trump campaign.

    4/10/2018

    4/10/2018

    Sounds like Trump thinks DOJ officials should be loyal to himself, not the Constitution or rule of law.

    4/26/2018

    Because of the fact that they have this witch hunt going on with people in the Justice Department that shouldn’t be there, they have a witch hunt against the president of the United States going on, I‘ve taken the position, and I don’t have to take this position, and maybe I’ll change, that I will not be involved with the Justice Department,” Trump said in a wide-ranging interview with “Fox & Friends” on Thursday morning.

    “I will wait until this is over. It is a total, it is all lies and it is a horrible thing that is going on, a horrible thing,” the president continued.

    Later,

    “It is a total, it is all lies and it is a horrible thing that is going on, a horrible thing,” he said of the Mueller probe. “And yet I have accomplished, with all of this going on, more than any president in the first year in our history. Everybody, even the enemies and haters admit that.“

    During Trump’s attack on the Justice Department, “Fox & Friends” co-host Steve Doocy challenged Trump over his attack on the DOJ.

    “It is your Justice Department, Mr. President, you’re the Republican in charge of, you got a Republican running it,” Doocy said.

    The comment didn’t stop Trump from continuing to express his disappointment with the department and doubling down that he may get involved with the DOJ’s probe.

    “I have decided I won’t be involved,” he said. “I may change my mind at some point because what is going on is a disgrace.”

    and

    “You look at the corruption at the top of the FBI, it’s a disgrace,“ he said. “And our Justice Department, which I try and stay away from, but at some point I won’t, our Justice Department should be looking at that kind of stuff, not the nonsense of collusion with Russia. There is no collusion with me and Russia. And everyone knows it.“

    6/14/2018

    (Note: The article could have also gone in the (in)competence thread.)

    7/24/2018

    At a high school leadership summit.

    Edit

    7/25/2018

    7/27/2018

    11/7/2018

    Sessions resigns and Trump installs someone who seems loyal to him.

    Trump: Russia Investigation (1)
    Trump: Russia Investigation (2)

    Uh oh. Not feeling good about this.

    Or this (Note: I didn’t read the article–I’m reacting to the tweet.)

    edit

    I agree.

    edit

    I don’t think this is hyperbolic or snarky. Americans may not want to accept the idea that we have a POTUS who is governing like an authoritarian, but the reality is that there is too much evidence to dismiss this notion. President Trump doesn’t not respect the rule of law, separation of powers, or the U.S. Constitution, and evidence suggests he would undermine the Constitution to protect and empower himself. If we’re not in a Constitutional crisis, we have taken another significant step in that direction.

    edit

    edit

    edit

    1. With regard to suspending due process, I believe Nyhan is referring to this Trump tweet:

      Trump is either ignorant of our Constitution and laws, or he doesn’t respect them at all.

      8/2/2018

      9/5/2018

      1. The claim that the book is the exact opposite of what’s really going on is highly dubious. It’s almost impossible to imagine how that could be the case, based on Trump’s own behavior and words.

      2. Irony: Trump’s complaining about no consequences for someone making stuff up, when he championed birtherism (claimed to have evidence coming real soon); accused Ted Cruz’s father of being involved in the Kennedy assassination; Obama ordering wire-taps of the Trump Tower; millions voted illegally for Clinton; improper unmasking of Trump team, and I’m sure I’m forgetting things.

      3. Comments about changing the libel laws falls in line with his dictatorial mindset. On this note also see the article below, which compiles a list of Trump’s authoritarian attitude towards protests:

      (The headline is slightly misleading. Trump was complaining about at Kavanaugh hearing, and a charitable reading could be that he was complaining about the decorum and appropriateness of the protests at the hearing. Still, the article does list other comments by Trump that create a disturbing pattern.)

      1. Maybe the worst thing Trump has said about the free press:

        This is bad. The type of thing that should ruin his credibility. Autocratic and un-American. Another strong signal he is unfit to be POTUS. (I think there’s some projecting this, too.)

        If Republican leaders were responsible and patriotic, they would join with Democratic leaders and push back hard against this.

        8/21/2018

        (Dale’s first tweet is about Trump’s remarks at a rally in West Virginia(?) today.)

        8/30/2018

        He is trying to get people to not believe what he said about the Russia investigation being a reason for firing Comey. Holt wasn’t fudging. At best, Trump misspoke, but that is stretch in my view. I’m worried that this is going to confuse people who don’t pay close attention to the news. He’s blatantly attacking the credibility of the press. It’s one of the main ways he can escape from the damning information that is almost sure to come.

      2. Going after Google?

        Edit

      3. This idiotic tweet makes me want to fight someone. Google is a publicly held, independent entity, and even if DID skew search results politically (which I think would be bad for business), I wouldn’t have a problem with it. First, if I thought this was true and didn’t like the results, I’d freaking find another favorite search engine, and if others didn’t like it, so would they.

        Second, the MOMENT a government tries to regulate something like this is the beginning of the end of this entity, or at least its dominance in the marketplace. Because people like me (who may be a tiny minority, sure) will refuse to use it in favor of something not regulated. And if that means going underground, then that’s what I’ll do. I will beg others to follow me as well.

      4. Holy heck. Is it me, or does this seem close to signaling to his followers to revolt if he’s impeached? I’ll say this: This is how a dictator speaks, not a real president.

  2. Signs That Trump Might Be Gearing Up to Fire Rod Rosenstein

    The president has told close advisers recently that the memo could provide him with grounds for either firing or forcing the deputy attorney general to leave, according to one person familiar with his remarks.

    The memo in question is the one written by Rep. Nunes. In this WaPo article, Rosenstein, and FBI Director Wray recently told Chief of Staff Kelly to hold of on releasing Nunes’s memo, because it reveal classified information. The quote above suggests that if Rosenstein opposes the release of the memo, Trump may use that as a pretext to fire or force Rosenstein out. (See this Just Security article, Why It’s Far Worse for Trump to Fire Mueller.)

    Edit (1/31/2018)

    From CNN: Exclusive: Trump asked Rosenstein if he was ‘on my team’

    Trump asked Rosenstein this last December. There is an unmistakably clear pattern that suggests Trump believes his appointees have to be loyal to him, not to the Constitution and rule of law. What happens if there are clear signs that the POTUS believes this? Yes, he’s unfit to be POTUS, but is moving toward impeachment/removal unjustified?

    And that might not be the worst thing Trump did:

    Edit (2/3/2018)

    It’s not going to be surprise if Trump fires Rosenstein. In fact, it seems more likely than not at this point.

    Edit: More on the Nunes Memo (2/1/2018)

    From CNN:

    Trump is calling associates to say a highly controversial Republican memo would expose FBI bias and could help discredit the Russia investigation.

    In the first post, Trump mentioned “fighting back.” You don’t fight back against the investigation against you–that’s not how it works. If an innocent person is on trial, if they’re being investigated for committing a crime, his/her innocence doesn’t allow them to fight back–doesn’t allow them to attempt to thwart or undermine the investigation, even if you’re the POTUS. Trump is behaving like a tyrant, an absolute dictator.

  3. 2018 State of Union Speech

    A Slate article mentions a part of Trump’s State of the Union speech:

    “Tonight,” he said, “I call on the congress to empower every Cabinet secretary with the authority to reward good workers—and to remove federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people.”

    What it sounds like is a call to give secretaries (obviously appointed by Trump) the power to remove federal employees. One thing about Trump is that he’s fairly transparent about his authoritarian tendencies.

    Edit (2/3/2018)

    Comparison between Trump and Erdogan

    WaPo op-ed: Want to See Where Trump is Taking America? Look at Turkey Under Erdogan

    Edit (2/6/2018)

    From CNN Trump Was Joking When He Accused Democrats of Treason, White House Says

    This was in speech, referencing when Democrats didn’t clap during Trump’s State of the Union speech. Trump called in “un-American,” and he assented when someone in the audience shouted out, “treasonous.”

  4. Military Parades

    From WaPo: Trump’s Marching Orders to the Pentagon: Plan a Grant Military Parade

    With a few exceptions — such as President George H.W. Bush’s 1991 parade down Constitution Avenue celebrating victory in the Persian Gulf War — presidents have avoided displays of military hardware that are more associated in the American mind with the Soviet Union’s Red Square celebrations or, more recently, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s efforts to show off his Taepodong missiles.

    “I don’t think there’s a lack of love and respect for our armed forces in the United States,” said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University. “What are they going to do, stand there while Donald Trump waves at them? It smacks of something you see in a totalitarian country — unless there’s a genuine, earnest reason to be doing it.”

    When respectable Americans are troubled by Trump’s authoritarian tendencies, included conservatives, putting on a big military parade will only reinforce those impressions. Like other things, I can’t help but take this as a sign that Trump doesn’t care that he’s projecting this image.

    Also,

    Shows of military strength are not typical in the United States — and they don’t come cheap. The cost of shipping Abrams tanks and high-tech hardware to Washington could run in the millions, and military officials said it was unclear how they would pay for it.

    Edit (2/7/2018)

    Former acting CIA director:

    In January 2017, there were reports that Trump wanted a big military parade for his inauguration. Snopes says they couldn’t confirm that story, but it seems more believable given the recent news.

  5. This, by itself, may not be a sign of authoritarianism per se, but I believe most presidents hold press conferences because they believe that in a democracy, they are accountable to the public, and this accountability is important. I’m pretty sure they don’t enjoy doing this. Trump has answered questions from the press in other settings, but doing a White House press conference has a symbolic significance of this accountability. It’s a way a POTUS can signals that she understands that and values this public accountability, and also that the affirms the important role the press has in our democracy. Trump avoiding this sends the opposite signal, especially when viewing this within the broader context of his rhetoric and actions.

  6. Attacking Institutions

    Sessions responds:

    Rep. Trey Gowdy (R) responds:


    Edit:
    What stood out: None of the politicians call out the president on this–they don’t even bat an eye. I’m not sure if that would be appropriate in this setting, but I feel like someone should say something. This is one of many examples that show that the President really doesn’t understand and respect the rule of law–he doesn’t seem to even understand why by-passing due process is a bad thing. I mean saying, “Take the firearms first; go through due process second” is almost like a line from an SNL parody to me. Now, maybe he means changing laws to expedite due process in some situations, but he’s not expressing himself well. However, the problem is that he has no self-awareness about how people will perceive this, no understanding that what he’s saying is problematic. I still think he doesn’t understand and respect fundamental principles like rule of law and separation of powers and the reasons these things are so critical.

    4/2/2018

    7/30/2018

    11/9/2018

    edit

    11/10/2018

    So irresponsible. There’s no justification for him doing this.

    11/21/2018

    Trump, at best, has a reckless disregard for maintaining the legitimacy of the courts. Personally, I think he’s intentionally trying to undermine their legitimacy, just as he does with any institution or person that can hold him accountable. The is the behavior of an autocrat.

  7. Favorable Comments About Other Authoritarians

    “I’m telling you, it’s a rigged system folks,” Trump said. “I’ve been saying that for a long time. It’s a rigged system. And we don’t have the right people in there yet. We have a lot of great people, but certain things, we don’t have the right people.”

    (emphasis added)

    This kinda gives me the shivers, as I suspect the “right people” are people that are loyal to Trump, not the Constitution. “Yet” indicates that he’s trying to get those people in while pushing out those loyal to the Constitution.

    4/24/2018

    Kim Jong-un also assassinated his half-brother with a deadly nerve agent.

    6/15/2018

    Trump’s understanding and approach to governing are more similar to an dictator than a U.S. president. Republicans would have their hair on fire if a Democratic president said this, and they would be justified.

    Trump claimed he was kidding:

    It didn’t seem that way to me. Trump doesn’t seem to joke around much. Plus, his comments are in line with other authoritarian behaviors and attitudes that he has displayed or have been part of his administration.

  8. Heavy Handed Intervention/Retaliation in Private Sector to Flex Muscles

    Thread:

    Also, notice how his attitude towards Amazon and Facebook is all about how the impact himself (and his friends), not the impact on the country:

    Behind the president’s thinking: Trump’s wealthy friends tell him Amazon is destroying their businesses. His real estate buddies tell him — and he agrees — that Amazon is killing shopping malls and brick-and-mortar retailers.

    and

    Axios’ Kim Hart points out: “Trump told Axios last year he doesn’t mind Facebook because it helps him reach his audience.

    3/31/2018

    Thread on explaining economic consequences of what Trump’s doing:

    4/2/2018

    This is outrageous and wrong.

    Now, according to four sources close to the White House, Trump is discussing ways to escalate his Twitter attacks on Amazon to further damage the company. “He’s off the hook on this. It’s war,” one source told me. “He gets obsessed with something, and now he’s obsessed with Bezos,” said another source. “Trump is like, how can I fuck with him?”

    4/3/2018

    4/12/2018

    5/18/2018

    This is based on three sources. So far the Postmaster General has resisted this, trying to explain that she can’t do this without proper review of the existing contract, and used slides to show the contract benefits USPS.

    5/21/2018

    Consequences of Trump targeting Amazon.

    6/25/2018

    6/26/2018

    I’m not sure, but I wouldn’t blame people who think Trump is threatening Harley-Davidson.

    7/23/2018

    Trump attacking Amazon again.

    8/13/2018

    11/26/2018

  9. Theory About Trump’s Conception of Truth and Lies

    My hypothesis on Trump’s conception of truth and lies goes like this. To Trump, anything that is favorable to him is the “truth,” while anything that is not favorable are “lies,” or even a “disgrace.” This hypothesis seems unreasonable, but I think it does seem to fit. Today Trump also tweeted something that seems to confirm this:

    He seems to be equating negative news with “Fake News.” And his ongoing attempts to undermine the legitimacy of the press, and the suggestion of taking away press credentials, are additional evidence of his authoritarian behavior.

    8/2/2018

    From Jennifer Jacobs

    Trump, at Pennsylvania rally, gets to the heart of why he calls the media “fake” — he wants the press to praise him more. He says he looked forward to reading the “dying” newspapers, thinking they’d credit him for great meetings with Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin. They didn’t.

    “So when I woke up, I said, ‘This is going to be great. Finally!’”Trump says, describing his work at the NATO meetings. “Finally I’m going to get great press. And I got hammered by even NATO.”

    “They can make anything bad—because they are the fake, fake disgusting news,” Trump says at Pennsylvania rally, complaining that reporters don’t praise him enough.

    (Aside: Trump is delusional if he thinks the meetings with Kim Jong Un, Putin, and NATO were great. If he thinks it’s great, then it must be great and everyone who says otherwise is fake.)

    9/8/2018

    He’ll quote the New York Times when it provides favorable coverage for him. See what I mean?

    11/9/2018

    Another example:

    He can claim to know Whittaker and not know him, whenever it suits him, and he has no qualms of doing things like this.

    11/20/2018

    I agree with the following, and I think it’s relevant:

    12/15/2018

  10. Pressing DOJ to Go After Political Enemies

    I worry that the average citizen isn’t as bothered about this as they should be. I would be far less worried if the congressional Republicans, who control Congress, would push back hard, but they’re not.

    1. Mr. Trump once called his distance from law enforcement one of the “saddest” parts of being president.

      “I look at what’s happening with the Justice Department,” he said in a radio interview a year ago. “Well, why aren’t they going after Hillary Clinton and her emails and with her, the dossier?” He added: “I am not supposed to be doing the kind of things that I would love to be doing. And I am very frustrated.”

      Reiterates how unfit Trump is to be POTUS. He’s acting like a dictator, not POTUS.

      11/21/2018

      Gonzales added, “…that while political opponents might warrant investigation if they do something criminal, “even then, you do so very, very carefully, because of possible allegations that you’re doing something, you’re going after your political rivals for no reason whatsoever.”

      “I think it’s a very, very serious situation, one that requires a delicate touch,” he said.

      Reactions not only from Gonzales, but Alan Dershowitz and John Dean–all negative.

  11. Inappropriate Demand for Loyalty

    senior advisor to the State Department appointed just two months ago has been quietly vetting career diplomats and American employees of international institutions to determine whether they are loyal to President Donald Trump and his political agenda, according to nearly a dozen current and former U.S. officials.

    Mari Stull, under the name “Vino Vixen,” has reviewed the social media pages of State Department staffers for signs of ideological deviation. She has researched the names of government officials to determine whether they signed off on Obama-era policies — though signing off does not mean officials personally endorsed them but merely cleared them through the bureaucratic chain. And she has inquired about Americans employed by international agencies, including the World Health Organization and the United Nations, asking their colleagues when they were hired and by whom, according the officials.

    (On a side note, is a “a former food and beverage lobbyist-turned-wine blogger” is really qualified for her position?)

    I’m putting the following clip below because Senator Corker, himself, describes the GOP as a “cult-like” and that seems closely related to an inappropriate demand for loyalty:

    7/19/2018

    9/18/2018

    DeSantis’s reaction, however, particularly piqued the president. Trump views the former congressman as politically indebted to him, people familiar with the president’s thinking say, because he believes DeSantis owes his electoral success to him. The president has privately maintained that he was correct with his comments about the hurricane’s death toll, and has expressed frustration that DeSantis crossed him on the matter.

    (Also, more evidence that Trump is delusional.)

    12/7/2018

    Here, the loyalty involves the AG and specifically the loyalty refers to protecting Trump from an investigation. This is shockingly and blatantly wrong. It’s like he’s publicly saying, “I’m above the law.” The fact that the GOP has allowed this is so appalling and reprehensible.

  12. Retaliation Against Individuals

    Edit

    Important to note that revoking Brennan’s classification can hurt the country. People like Brennan retain their security clearance because it allows them to assist those who are still in government. Therefore taking away his clearance, without good justification, can hurt the those working to protect the country.

    I’m still not sure if Trump is using an insecure phone as well.

    Sounds like obstruction of justice as well.

    8/16/2018

    A tweet that supports impression Trump is obstructing justice:

    Twitter thread from Carrie Cordero (Adjunct Professor @GeorgetownLaw Analyst @CNN & Contributing Editor @lawfareblog. Fmr USDOJ & IC national security lawyer.):

    The most dangerous aspect of Trump’s action against @JohnBrennan is that it uses national security as a cover for a decision that is about anything but.

    From the original travel ban, to the #FamilySeparation policy, to the abuse of security clearance authority, it will take extraordinary effort to undo the damage done to decisions made in the name of national security

    At their core, fake national security arguments make the nation less safe.

    1. Admiral McRaven’s letter is very short. I recommend reading it.

      Edit

      8/17/2018

      1. Alarms bells are ringing

  13. Trump Acts More Like a Mob Boss

    12/17/2018

  14. Important thread explaining the complex relationship between the POTUS and DOJ/FBI, and how Trump is violating important norms, and why that matters. Recommended.

    Trump tweets today:

    He’s the POTUS–he should be able to get this information, and he could give it to DOJ. One could say that this would be interfering in the investigation, but his tweets already do that. People got mad at Bill Clinton being seen talking to Loretta Lynch, the then AG under Obama, because it created impression that he was influence investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. We don’t know what they even said, and Bill Clinton was not the POTUS at the time. Still, this was not insignificant Compare this to what Trump has been saying (e.g., mentioning Russia investigation for firing Comey and revoking security clearance for John Brennan).

    9/3/2018

    Trump seems to be complaining that Sessions and the DOJ has hurt Republicans politically, implying that political considerations should trump legal ones. I’m pretty sure that some Americans will agree with Trump on this, and that makes me sad.

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