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.




The President is already attempting to undermine the legitimacy of a potential victory by the opposition party. What would you say if you saw it in another country?— Brendan Nyhan (@BrendanNyhan) February 9, 2019

In the 2016 election Trump also questioned the legitimacy of the election.

Here he suggests he might not accept the election results.


Trump told border agents to break U.S. law and defy judicial orders— Justin Miller (@justinjm1) April 8, 2019

4/24/2019 A list of authoritarian behavior made by Republican lawyer who worked for Kenneth Starr.


Trump re-tweeted this:

After the best week ever for @realDonaldTrump – no obstruction, no collusion, NYT admits @BarackObama did spy on his campaign, & the economy is soaring. I now support reparations-Trump should have 2 yrs added to his 1st term as pay back for time stolen by this corrupt failed coup— Jerry Falwell (@JerryFalwellJr) May 5, 2019

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.



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


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.


“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.”


“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.“


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


At a high school leadership summit.





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.)


I agree.


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.





A collection of despotic behavior by Trump regarding the Russian investigation. It is blatant.

  1. An Authoritarian Lithmus Test

    That’s what the Harvard prof mentions at the end of this clip. Decide for yourself if Trump qualifies.



  2. 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.



    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.)


    This is un-American, totally inappropriate for a POTUS. That Trump is comfortable with this, likely welcomes this type of fawning, puts him in a really bad light.





    Not sure where else to put this. (I can’t find post on incitement of violence or extra-judicial killing–These comments remind of when he said Duterte was “doing it the right way.” This was in relation to Duterte’s extra-judicial killings.)



    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.


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


      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.



      I can’t recall Trump saying anything close to this:

      1. Trump gearing up to attack press–with more than just words

        That’s what it seems like, based on a statement from WH spokesman Judd Deere in a WaPo article about Trump not sticking to his campaign promise of visit his properties.

        “The Washington Post is blatantly interfering with the business relationships of the Trump Organization, and it must stop,” Deere wrote in his statement. “Please be advised that we are building up a very large ‘dossier’ on the many false David Fahrenthold and others stories as they are a disgrace to journalism and the American people.”

        This is not good.

    2. Going after Google?


    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.”

  • 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.


    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.

  • 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.

  • Attacking Institutions

    Sessions responds:

    Rep. Trey Gowdy (R) responds:

    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.






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


    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.


  • Favorable Comments About Other Authoritarians and Dictators

    “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.


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


    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.



    Thread by economist:

    How about we ease up on the hot takes about @AOC’s economic agenda until we figure this one out?

    It’s 100x more insane, and from, like, the sitting president.

    The North Korean economic model’s a winner, we just haven’t given it enough time or a strong enough leader…

    …is the looniest take I’ve ever heard.

    Thing is, it’s not funny. They’re poor, they’re hungry, and they’re dying. Stunted growth means that North Korean kids are shorter and lighter than South Koreans.

    Economic policy really matters, and it’s disgusting to call this an economic powerhouse.


    This isn’t a favorable comment so much as the fact that Trump trusts Putin over our intelligence agencies.


    Trump invited Viktor Organ, Hungary’s leader to the White House.



    Not favorable comments per se, but here Trump is getting chummy with Putin, an authoritarian adversary that has interfered in our elections, attempting to sow discord in our country and continues to do so. Trump seeming to enjoy trashing the press with the guy who has had journalists murdered. As an American I feel this utterly disgusting, making me want to use unsavory language.

    This fits the post:

  • Heavy Handed Intervention/Retaliation in Private Sector to Flex Muscles


    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.


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


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


    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?”




    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.


    Consequences of Trump targeting Amazon.



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


    Trump attacking Amazon again.





    Trump’s “ordering” private companies to do something. Who the heck does he think he is?! He’s not a dictator–or he’s not supposed to be.


    My understanding is that the Fed Chair (Powell) and the Fed itself is supposed to act independently of politics and the federal government, including the White House. Just like the DOJ and FBI, Trump has broken norms that maintain importance independence of those institutions. Both are actions that are more consistent with an autocrat than a leader of a liberal democracy.


    In light of Trump’s comments towards Powell yesterday:

    It’s so wrong that Trump didn’t divest his business.

    Also, the thread below shows impact of Trump’s tweet on the stock market:



  • 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.


    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.)


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


    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.


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



    Notice that the people who say nice things about Trump are seen as favorable and good. I think this is related to the hypothesis above.



    Trump says he will fire intelligence watchdog at center of Ukraine allegations that led to impeachment from WaPo.

    If Trump is allowed to get away with this, without really showing a compelling reason for doing this, then this is another step in placing Trump above the law. He’s taking down the system of checks-and-balances, bit by bit. So many warning signals about Trump’s authoritarianism–specifically indications that he believes he is above the law. Some others that come to mind off the top of my head: criticizing AG Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation, even though this was appropriate; publicly intimidating witnesses in the investigation, and other forms of obstructing justice in the Russia investigation. No one can say they didn’t know; that there was no evidence.

    Trump rejects HHS watchdog’s report on severe hospital shortages from WaPo.

    At Monday’s coronavirus task force briefing, Trump rejected a report by the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services outlining the severe equipment shortages facing the country’s hospitals, claiming without evidence that the results were politically biased.

    Another reinforcement of my perception that Trump conceives of information that is politically harmful or unflattering to him as untrue. How long will Americans put up with this?


    More Evidence That Trump defines “Truth” as That Which Favors Himself and “Lies” as That Which Does Not

    This is also something I associate with a dictator. Yeah, believing this about a POTUS seems unreasonable, but there is substantive evidence for this position.

    Trump campaign demands CNN apologize for poll that shows Biden leading from CNN

    “To my knowledge, this is the first time in its 40-year history that CNN had been threatened with legal action because an American politician or campaign did not like CNN’s polling results,” Vigilante (CNN’s executive vice president and general counsel) wrote in his response. “To the extent we have received legal threats from political leaders in the past, they have typically come from countries like Venezuela or other regimes where there is little or no respect for a free and independent media.”

    After CNN released the poll earlier this week, Trump tweeted that he had hired Republican pollster McLaughlin & Associates to “analyze” the survey and others “which I felt were FAKE based on the incredible enthusiasm we are receiving.” McLaughlin ranks as one of the least accurate pollsters in the industry, as measured by FiveThirtyEight.

    (emphasis added)

    Trump even attacks Fox News when they don’t give favorable news for Trump:

    Trump has regularly chafed at polls that do not reflect favorably on him while promoting ones that do. Last month, Trump bashed Fox News, a network he often touts and gives interviews to, for a telephone-conducted poll that showed him behind Biden by 8 points, and instead pointed to a CNN poll released earlier in the month where he was leading Biden in battleground states. That CNN poll, however, showed Biden had a 5-point lead over Trump among registered voters nationwide.

    “Why doesn’t @FoxNews put up the CNBC POLL or the (believe it or not!) @CNN Poll? Hope Roger A is looking down and watching what has happened to this once beautiful creation!” Trump tweeted at the time, referring to the late Fox News founder Roger Ailes.

    And notice how CNN is fine when it has a favorable poll, but when the poll is unfavorable, he demands an apology and threatens legal action. Ridiculous.

    Other incidents that come to mind:

    Firing an Inspector General after reading her report of shortages of testing and personal protective equipment.

    Trump’s erroneous claim that Alabama would be hit by Hurricane Dorian, and the scramble to appease Trump afterward.

    There’s the infamous claim of larger crowds at Trump’s inauguration, versus Obama’s–in spite of photos that proved otherwise. Trump pressured the National Park Services Director to provide photos that supported his claim.

    And we could find many evidence of Trump praising people who have praised him. He gets nice letter from Kim Jong Un, and Trump claims they’ve “fallen in love.”


    Here, Hillary Clinton lists several instances where Trump accuses a process of being rigged–when he comes out on the losing end–i.e., rigged if the end result doesn’t favor him, and well-done when it does.


    Thread from journalist, Kurt Eichenwald:

    Waiting for the @GOP, @senatemajldr @LindseyGrahamSC to contradict a man who said he did not win an Emmy because of fraud (2005), another Emmy because of fraud (2006), the Iowa caucuses because of fraud (2016), the Virginia vote because of fraud (2016), the New Hampshire vote…1
    …because of fraud (2016), the California vote because of fraud (2016), the entire popular vote of the country (2016), the popular vote of the country again because of fraud (2020), the Michigan vote because of fraud (2020), the Pennsylvania vote because of fraud (2020), the…2
    …Nevada vote because of fraud (2020)…oops, forgot one…an Indian Casino contract because of fraud (1993), Georgia vote because of fraud (2020), Arizona vote because of fraud (2020)…going back in time again…was sued for housing discrimination because of a fraud (1972)…3
    …didnt win the Nobel Peace Prize because of fraud (2018 – compared it to losing out on an Emmy because of the fraud), the Nobel Peace Prize again because of fraud (2020), ..saw a Wall Street analyst say his Taj Mahal casino was at risk of bankruptcy because of fraud (1990)…4
    …EVERY single time this man has lost at ANYTHING, he has said it was because of fraud (recap: A casino contract, charges of housing discrimination, a Wall Street analyst negative report (which was correct) 2 Emmys, the Iowa caucuses, votes in 3 states in 2016, the popular…5
    …vote in 2016, loss of 5 states & popular vote in 2020, in 2020)…despite him claiming fraud in every loss dating back to 1971, @senatemajldr @SenatorCollins @LindseyGrahamSC are willing to let him attack our democracy because he is screaming fraud for the 1,000th time.

    1. I don’t think I completely agree with this thread from David Roberts of Vox, but I think he makes some good points:

      2. Anyone who’s read my articles (or followed this feed) knows that I think the answer to these questions is both extremely clear & extremely important. To wit: it is not conscious AT ALL. It is 0.0% a strategy. At no point has Trump been capable of behaving otherwise.

      3. Trump is a malignant narcissist, which means he’s got a gaping, insatiable beast of an ego that needs constant reinforcement & affirmation. He’s a slave to it (& is ultimately miserable, like all narcissists). It tells him what reality must be; he builds a world to support it.

      4. To be a good liar — to “deceive,” as a conscious act — one must be able to hold reality & one’s lies separate. That very, very basic feature of most people’s cognitive landscape simply doesn’t apply to Trump. There is ONLY the raging ego & the world it demands.

      5. This is why narcissists are so successful so often (at least for limited times): their internal architecture is profoundly unfamiliar to normal people. The separation — what I want/feel/need over here, the world & other people w/ their own needs over there — is absent.

      6. Most people aren’t like that & have trouble believing others are. (Ask anyone who’s ever been in an abusive relationship w/ one; it can take a LONG time to accept that it is what it is.) People end up rationalizing narcissists’ behavior for them, just to make some sense of it. (emphasis added)

      Pause: I know there is a tendency in me to find some rational explanation for words and deeds that make Trump seem totally ignorant, incompetent, mentally unstable, and autocratic. I resist this because to accept such ideas makes me feel like an irrational person. People who view a politician this way appear unreasonable, and maybe unhinged.

      7. Anyway, I’ve been over this a million times. So why does it matter? Lies are lies, bad behavior is bad behavior, who cares how much is conscious? The answer is, it matters because it informs how you assess the ugly political situation we’re in.

      8. If Trump is some sort of evil communications genius who figured out how to manipulate angry white people & the media enough to hack the system, take over a political party, & win the presidency, then the rest of us are, at least to some extent, exonerated.

      9. We were fooled by an evil genius, who saw more deeply than us, tapped more cleverly into the zeitgeist. It’s unfortunate, but the solution to the problem is pretty clear — get rid of the evil genius & return things to normal.

      10. But if Trump is a blundering, flailing buffoon, blinded by unquenchable need & bottomless resentment, incapable of the mental discipline necessary to distinguish fantasy from reality … well then responsibility for all this does not belong with him, but with US. The system.

      11. America — its people, its media, its politics, its institutions, all its systems of self-correction — is so weakened that even a lumpen orange tangle of uncut venality can trample it. No evil genius required. Raw, theatrical ignorance & resentment will do.

      12. Anybody can find themselves outmaneuvered by an evil genius. But when you find yourself laid low by a dimwitted jackass, it’s time for some introspection.

      13. I’m not going to get into WHY America found itself so vulnerable in 2016. It’s some mix of decades of right-wing attacks on US institutions, rapid demographic changes, & lingering pain from the 2008 recession. The lion’s share of blame goes to conservative media, IMO.

      14. But a thread on that stuff would take forever. My only point here is that it really DOES matter whether Trump is doing what he’s doing consciously, strategically, with a plan. If he’s not — and I think the evidence overwhelmingly supports that take — well, that’s real grim.

      15. Among other things, it means the problems cannot be solved just by booting Trump out. America’s weakness — its susceptibility to bullshit, demagoguery, gaslighting, lies, & corruption — is greater than just Trump, and will outlast him.

      16. In sum: the fact that Trump is diminishing & degrading America does not mean he is secretly brilliant & diabolical. It means America is secretly weak, afraid, and hollowed out — not nearly so powerful as it imagines. Er … Happy New Year!

      17. All right, one other thing to add! (This is all going bye-bye when I nuke my archives on Monday night anyway.) A few people have cited the quote from Trump to Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes. Basically: “I bash the press so people won’t believe bad stories about me.”

      18. Some people point to that as evidence that he DOES have a strategy. But I think it indicates just the opposite, The way Trump sees it, if X person/institution criticizes him, he attacks X. For any value of X. That’s all there is to it: press bashes him so he bashed press.

      19. WE read special significance into it because for US the press is not just another institution; it is the main mechanism by which the electorate is informed. It’s *special*. To go after the press, despite its special status, must be part of some larger evil plan.

      20. But to Trump, like any malignant narcissist, NOTHING is special – not the press, not veterans or Gold Star parents, not heads of state. To him, all that stuff is on a flat, undifferentiated plane of Not Me. He will eagerly wage war on any of it to protect his ego.

      21. The press has no special status for him, it’s just something that is threatening his narcissistic ego protection. “You say bad things about me so I try to destroy you” — he would say the same to/about any person or institution.

      22. I mean, consider: if you had a diabolical plan to systematically weaken a truth-finding institution so that you could lie without restraint … would you SAY SO, out loud, to a f’ing journalist? That’s not how diabolical plans work!

      23. To me, this is a classic example of people projecting layered intentions onto Trump because the stupid, stupid truth is too disturbing to contemplate. He said, “you mean to me so I mean to you.” Surely there’s more to it than that? No. No, there isn’t.

  • 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.


      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.




  • 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:



    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.)


    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.

  • Retaliation Against Individuals


    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.


    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.


    From WaPo: Inspector general who handled Ukraine whistleblower complaint says ‘it is hard not to think’ he was fired by Trump for doing his job


    David Ignatius of WaPo does a good job of summarizing Trump’s recent moves to neuter individuals and mechanisms that would hold him (or any POTUS) accountable.

    Some sections that stood out:

    With Atkinson’s dismissal, Trump has replaced every experienced, Senate-confirmed official at the ODNI. Intelligence is now overseen by acting director Richard Grenell, a Trump loyalist and former State Department spokesman.

    Also, this bit about the Steve Engel from DOJ’s Office of Legal Council (OLC), as well as AG Barr, have aided in this process:

    One little-noted facilitator of this demolition process is the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). Once a respected source of legal guidance, the OLC has become a reliably pro-Trump advocate under Attorney General William P. Barr and the OLC chief, Assistant Attorney General Steven A. Engel.

    In an OLC opinion in September that astonished many Justice Department veterans, Engel argued that the DNI’s office couldn’t transmit to Congress the Ukraine whistleblower’s compliant. Engel opined that the complaint wasn’t an “urgent concern” as defined by law. Atkinson responded with a blistering letter, and the administration eventually relented.

    Engel’s other controversial OLC opinions include a ruling in June that Trump didn’t need to release his tax returns and an opinion in May that White House advisers had “absolute immunity” from testifying in the impeachment inquiry.

    And finally:

    Fourteen IG positions are vacant, including those at the CIA, Defense, Treasury and the Department of Health and Human Services.

    On Friday, Trump nominated officials to fill five of these open positions, but many of his nominees have administration political ties.

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



      1. Alarms bells are ringing

  • Trump Acts More Like a Mob Boss




    1. There is no honor among thieves.

  • 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).


    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.


    Trump was frustrated, the sources said, that prosecutors Matt Whitaker oversees filed charges that made Trump look bad. None of the sources suggested that the President directed Whitaker to stop the investigation, but rather lashed out at what he felt was an unfair situation.


    Over a week later, Trump again voiced his anger at Whitaker after prosecutors in Manhattan officially implicated the President in a hush-money scheme to buy the silence of women around the 2016 campaign — something Trump fiercely maintains isn’t an illegal campaign contribution. Pointing to articles he said supported his position, Trump pressed Whitaker on why more wasn’t being done to control prosecutors in New York who brought the charges in the first place, suggesting they were going rogue.

    The previously unreported discussions between Trump and Whitaker described by multiple sources familiar with the matter underscore the extent to which the President firmly believes the attorney general of the United States should serve as his personal protector.

    (emphasis added)

    Congress should call Whitaker and anyone else present and question about what was said. If Trump did these things–and you add them his comments about Sessions (and Holder), asking for loyalty; firing Comey, etc.–Congress needs to do something. If a Democratic POTUS did this, a GOP Congress would be looking to impeach, and I think I would sympathize with them.


  • Examples of Demagoguery

    After Trump made his first Oval Office prime time address, someone said that presidents usually try to calm the public, but this was the first time the POTUS tried to make them afraid. That comes to mind when seeing these two tweets today. What we know doesn’t warrant fear of immigrants and others coming in from the southern border.

    He’s also tweeting this after a bombshell story last night that says Trump told Michael Cohen, his lawyer, to lie to Congress.


    I believe Trump repeated what seems to be a fabrication about women being taped up with duct tape and dragged over the border by traffickers. Here’s a previous article about that, collecting the instances when Trump has said this:


    Demagoguery and idiocy:




    I’m not sure how much stock to put into this.

    Marshall points out this old tweet:

  • Trump gearing up to fire FBI Director Wray?

    Something to keep in mind:


  • Acting as if He’s Above the Law

    From the article below:

    Trump’s central argument in trying to block access to the Mazars documents is that congressional oversight applies only to the development of legislation. Without any legislative purpose, Trump contends the committee’s request represents political warfare.

    This is a crazy position to argue. If I understand this, Congress is only suppose to legislate and not hold POTUS accountable.



    Some quotes from the recent past:

    Trump also said that he has that absolute right to pardon himself.

  • Evidence That Trump Doesn’t Value or Even Understand Liberal Democracy

    This sounds like Trump equates “post-war democratic liberalism” in the world with Democratic liberals in the U.S.

    For any other POTUS I would assume they misunderstood the question. With Trump, he may have a vague sense of what liberal democracy means, but what he says here suggests that he really doesn’t value it–it’s not something that he has a desire to strengthen and promote–like almost every other POTUS before him.


    I admit that I didn’t know about the Emoluments Clause in the Constitution, but you would think the POTUS would know; and if he didn’t he would check with his advisers before saying something like the above.

  • These are alarm bells going off. I hope Americans are hearing them.

    I would like to see prominent, former members of the Trump administration speak out now as well.


    It’s getting worse. If congressional Republicans turn a blind eye–or actively support this–which I would expect, they’ve taken another significant step towards authoritarian rule.

  • Subverting Advise and Consent of the Senate

    Trump has a bunch of acting directors–directors who have not gone through the Senate confirmation process. Here’s another:

  • Comparison with Trump and autocrats

    Thread by former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul (now a professor at Stanford):

    For those of us who study autocracies, including elections in autocracies, there were a lot of familiar messages, symbols, and methods on display this week at the #RNCConvention. THREAD
    1. Cult of the Personality. This show was all about Trump. ( 3 years after the death of Stalin, Khrushchev’s gave his secret speech in 1956, titled “On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences.” I wonder if a future GOP leader will give a similar speech someday?)
    2. Administrative resources. Autocrats and semi-autocrats frequently use government resources for personal electoral gain. We have #HatchAct to prevent such behavior in the U.S. It’s obviously not working.
    3. Blatant disregard for the law. That Trump’s team dared anyone to charge them with violating the #HatchAct is exactly what Putin and others autocrats do all the time. Laws don’t apply to the king & his court, only to the subjects.
    4. Blatant disregard for facts. As U.S. ambassador to Russia, I found this Putin regime trait most frustrating. We – the U.S. government- were constrained by facts. They were not. Trump obviously was not constrained by facts last night. He usually isn’t:…
    5. Us versus Them populism. “Elites” versus “the people” nationalism. Autocratic populists use polarizing identity politics to divide societies all the time. Many populist leaders actually have little in common with the “masses.” (Putin is very rich.)
    6. The opposition is the “enemy of the people.” Putin & other autocratic populists cast their opponents as radicals & revolutionaries. They don’t focus on their own records – often there is little to celebrate – but the horrors that will happen if they lose power. Sound familiar?
    6b. There is one difference between Putin and Trump so far. Putin also claims falsely that his political opponents are supported by foreign enemies, the U.S. & the West. Trump has not gone there full-throated yet. But my guess it’s coming. “Beijing Biden” is a hint.
    7. Law and Order. Autocratic populists all shout about it, even when the opposite is happening on their watch.
    8. The good tsar versus the bad boyars. Kings and tsars always blamed bad provincial leaders for national ills. Putin blames the governors all the time… just like Trump.
    9. Individual acts of royal kindness. Putin, like the tsars he emulates, does this all the time. Trump offering a pardon or “granting” citizenship (which of course he didnt & doesn’t have the power to do) are typical, faux gestures of royal kindness toward his subjects.
    10. Homage and fealty. Vassals must signal their complete loyalty and absolute devotion to kings and autocrats. Those that don’t are banished from the royal court or the party. (Where were the Bushes last night?)
    11. The royal family. In this dimension, Trump acts more like a monarch than even Putin. (but watch Lukashenko and his gun-toting teenage son in Belarus)The many Trump family members who performed this week – even a girlfriend got a slot – went beyond even what Putin does.
    12. There’s still one big difference. We still don’t know who will win the November election. That uncertainty is a crucial difference between electoral democracies & electoral autocracies. Its also a difference that has no guarantee of lasting, depending on the outcome this year
    For further reading on populists in comparative perspective, see this report by @AnnaGBusse @FukuyamaFrancis @didikuo1 and me:

  • How often has Trump expressed importance of democracy and important components of democracy?

    It would be interesting if someone analyzed speeches, press conferences, and interviews of past presidents and compared this to Trump’s rhetoric. Expressing the importance of a free press, voting, free speech, rule of law–I took this for granted when previous presidents spoke about these things, but now I long to hear these words from a president–and I want to believe they believe it and know what they’re talking about.

    I never really chronicled this–but it’s hard to record what is not said. But here’s one example:

    Previous presidents would have said something in support of these Belarusan protestors, would have commented about the importance of listening and respecting the people, maybe warning the leaders not to violate the rights of the people. Trump rarely talks like this, and it’s just another indication that he thinks more like a dictator than a real POTUS.

  • Trump Wanted I.R.S. Investigations of Foes, Top Aide Says from the NYT

    While in office, President Donald J. Trump repeatedly told John F. Kelly, his second White House chief of staff, that he wanted a number of his perceived political enemies to be investigated by the Internal Revenue Service, Mr. Kelly said.

    Mr. Kelly, who was chief of staff from July 2017 through the end of 2018, said in response to questions from The New York Times that Mr. Trump’s demands were part of a broader pattern of him trying to use the Justice Department and his authority as president against people who had been critical of him, including seeking to revoke the security clearances of former top intelligence officials.

    Here’s a quote from John Kelly that should be getting more attention in my opinion:

    Mr. Kelly said that after he initially started working for Mr. Trump as his chief of staff in July 2017, he was surprised that Mr. Trump actually thought he would follow through on what the president wanted.

    “He initially thought I would do it,” Mr. Kelly said. “He thought I would be loyal and obedient to him. I told him we were loyal to our oath to the Constitution.”

    Mr. Kelly said Mr. Trump had no appreciation for that concept and continued to push him and others to do what he wanted.

    “If he told you to slit someone’s throat, he thought you would go out and do it,” Mr. Kelly said.

    (emphasis added)

    For any previous president, remarks like this from a former Chief of Staff and Homeland Secretary would have been a scandal that would have brought down the presidency.


    Paul Ryan: “Look, Trump’s not a Conservative. He’s an authoritarian narcissist.”


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