Trump against democracy

Let’s be very clear here– the biggest problem with Trump is not just that he is an ignoramus, sexist, racist, blowhard, it is that he is one with utter contempt for the (mostly) bipartisan values that our genuinely fundamental to our democracy.  Lots of good stuff on the matter lately.

First, Peter Beinart on Trump’s threat to an independent judiciary:

Now he’s going after the judiciary. In San Diego over the weekend, Trump publicly attacked Gonzalo Curiel, the judge who is hearing the lawsuit against Trump University. After first noting that Curiel “happens to be Mexican” (he was actually born in Indiana to Mexican immigrant parents), Trump declared that, “It is a disgrace. It is a rigged system … This court system, the judges in this court system, federal court. They ought to look into Judge Curiel because what Judge Curiel is doing is a total disgrace.”

To understand how extraordinary Trump’s attack on Curiel is, it’s worth remembering what happened when Barack Obama, in his 2010 State of the Union address, criticized the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case. As the justices looked on, Obama declared that, “With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests—including foreign corporations—to spend without limit in our elections.” Rush Limbaugh saidObama’s comments reflected a “profound disrespect for the separation of powers” and “a thugocracy style” befitting a “banana republic.” Chief Justice John Roberts himself called Obama’s remarks “very troubling.”

But Obama didn’t attack the justices’ integrity. And he didn’t suggest they be punished. Trump, by contrast, called Curiel a “disgrace,” who is presiding over a “rigged system.” And he suggested that, “they ought to look into Judge Curiel.” …

Were Trump president, he’d have other methods of intimidation at his disposal. Instead of merely suggesting that, “they ought to look into Judge Curiel,” he could order his Justice Department to do it. To be sure, Democrats, liberal journalists, and principled conservatives would howl. But given the partisan consolidation around Trump since he locked up the nomination, it’s likely that many Republicans would look the other way, or suggest that what Obama did was worse. Already, pro-Trump Republicans like the CNN commentator Jeffrey Lord are echoing Trump’s attack, calling the Trump university trial “rigged,” and suggesting that Curiel, because he received a reward from a Latino lawyers’ group, has a “serious ethnic axe to grind.” …

On the right, the most common justification for supporting Trump is that he’ll appoint conservatives to the Supreme Court. That’s naïve. On issues like abortion, gun control, and gay rights, Trump has been wildly inconsistent. Where he’s been more consistent is in his willingness to denigrate anyone who gets in his way. He’s less likely to the challenge federal judiciary’s progressivism than to challenge its independence. Gonzalo Curiel may be the first judge he’s threatened on his way to the White House. But he’s unlikely to be the last.

And the NYT article on his attacks on a free press:

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, an expert on the presidency and director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, said Mr. Trump appeared to be making assumptions about journalism that were “so faulty as to be bizarre.”

“The notion that the press would be writing stories praising him for keeping a promise he made in public to veterans, months after he made the promise, suggests he simply does not understand the function of the press,” she said.

And the president of the National Press Club, Thomas Burr, issued a blistering statement suggesting that Mr. Trump “misunderstands — or, more likely, simply opposes — the role a free press plays in a democratic society.”

“Any American political candidate who attacks the press for doing its job is campaigning in the wrong country,” Mr. Burr said.  [emphases mine]

And a great NYT story calling upon legal experts (especially conservative and libertarian ones) to explain how Trump is a threat to the foundational principle of the rule of law:

Even as much of the Republican political establishment lines up behind its presumptive nominee, many conservative and libertarian legal scholars warn that electing Mr. Trump is a recipe for a constitutional crisis.

“Who knows what Donald Trump with a pen and phone would do?” askedIlya Shapiro, a lawyer with the libertarian Cato Institute…

David Post, a retired law professor who now writes for the Volokh Conspiracy, a conservative-leaning law blog, said those comments had crossed a line.

“This is how authoritarianism starts, with a president who does not respect the judiciary,” Mr. Post said. “You can criticize the judicial system, you can criticize individual cases, you can criticize individual judges. But the president has to be clear that the law is the law and that he enforces the law. That is his constitutional obligation.” …

Beyond the attack on judicial independence is a broader question of Mr. Trump’s commitment to the separation of powers and to the principles of federalism enshrined in the Constitution. Randy E. Barnett, a law professor at Georgetown and an architect of the first major challenge to President Obama’s health care law, said he had grave doubts on both fronts.

“You would like a president with some idea about constitutional limits on presidential powers, on congressional powers, on federal powers,” Professor Barnett said, “and I doubt he has any awareness of such limits.”

You get the gist.  Again, take note of who these criticisms are coming from.  Now, we need enough Republican politicians and others to get this gist.  Trump is not an ordinary nominee.  He is a uniquely dangerous candidate for our democracy.  Maybe the odds of him doing major lasting damage to our democratic institutions is only 5-10%, but that’s 5-10% higher than any other major party nominee we’ve seen in recent times.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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