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.

10 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.“

  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. 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.

  8. Heavy Handed Intervention 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.

  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.

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