Autocrats love national emergencies

Great NYT Op-Ed from the authors of How Democracies Die.  One way?  Wannabe autocrats gin up phony “national emergencies.”  Hmmm, almost seems as if that is somehow relevant to Trump:

Although President Trump operates in a different political environment, his behavior, particularly since the November midterm elections, betrays similar autocratic instincts. The president manifestly lacks the patience or negotiating skills needed to deal with divided government. His response to Democratic control of the House of Representatives has been a refusal to compromise and, more dangerously, a refusal to lose. Unlike Presidents Clinton and Bush, who conceded defeat when it became clear that their initiatives lacked legislative support, Mr. Trump has refused to accept the failure of his border wall project. Unable to obtain the necessary votes in Congress, the president recklessly forced a government shutdown. When that didn’t get him his wall, he moved to circumvent Congress altogether by inventing — if not yet declaring — a national emergency. In his Oval Office speech on Tuesday, he used the word “crisis” six times in eight minutes. That is how autocrats respond to legislative opposition. [emphases mine] Following in the tradition of Vargas and Marcos, Mr. Trump fabricated a security threat to make the case for bypassing Congress.

The president’s border wall stunt may well fail. Mr. Trump is politically weak. Outside of his core group of supporters, few Americans believe that the southern border poses a national security threat, and there is a chance — though it is far from certain — that any effort by Mr. Trump to circumvent Congress would be blocked by the courts. On Friday, Mr. Trump seemed to acknowledge the weakness of his position when he announced that “what we’re not looking to do right now is national emergency,” although he continued to hold the threat over Congress.

But no matter the outcome, these developments should set off alarm bells. Our president is behaving like an autocrat. His willingness to fabricate a national crisis and subvert constitutional checks and balances to avoid legislative defeat places him closer to Ferdinand Marcos than to Ronald Reagan…

Mr. Trump lacks the self-restraint of Lincoln, F.D.R., or even George W. Bush. Indeed, he seems incapable of exercising executive power responsibly. Mr. Trump’s first encounter with divided government has produced what is proving to be the longest government shutdown ever. And any reckless use of emergency powers would set a dangerous precedent for overriding the legislative branch. Unlike other national emergency declarations, this one would openly defy the will of Congress.

This raises a terrifying question: How would a president who is willing to fabricate a national emergency over a simple legislative impasse behave during a real security crisis?

Sadly, of course, we know the answer to this.  Even worse, we know how his Republican enablers would respond.

Putin’s President

Ardent never-Trumper and national security expert Tom Nichols weighs in upon the latest revelations:

Let us sit back, just for a moment, and absorb the reality of the revelations of the past few days.

For apparently the first time in history, the president of the United States himself was the subject of a counterintelligence investigation. This means that his ties to a hostile power were significant enough to overcome the high bar the FBI would have to clear to investigate any American for possibly being influenced or compromised by another country — much less its own chief executive. [emphases mine]

We have also learned that the president has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal his discussions with an enemy foreign leader not only from intelligence and foreign policy figures in his own administration, but even from the senior officials of his own Oval Office. It should go without saying that he has tried, in this area as in so many others, to wall himself off from congressional oversight…

While Trump is not an “agent” of the Russian Federation (too many people use this kind of language without knowing what it means to counterintelligence officials), it seems at this point beyond argument that the president personally fears Russian President Vladimir Putin for reasons that can only suggest the existence of compromising information.

Despite the lurid fantasies of the president’s opponents, however, this information is most likely regarding the possible entanglement of Trump’s finances in New York with the Russian mob, Russian intelligence and the Russian government — which are, functionally, the same group — over the past decades…

First, the existence of the counterintelligence investigation is not a scandal. Indeed, it would be scandal if we had found out today that the FBI had not launched an investigation.

Trump’s behavior regarding Russia has always presented a serious security concern. But when Trump fires the director of the FBI, and then brags about it to actual Russians, only the most stupid or craven law enforcement agency would decline to investigate what to any counterintelligence officer would be the brightest of dozens of flashing red lights…

Second, the president’s attempts to hide the content of his conversations with Putin are not only abnormal but also deeply suspect. The intelligence community, members of Congress and the public should always be anxious whenever any American official talks to a top Russian leader and then tries to seize the notes. This kind of behavior violates practices of sensible diplomacy and intelligence analysis, and no one acts this way for innocent reasons…

Finally, it is exhausting but nonetheless necessary to point out again the titanic hypocrisy of the Republican Party and of Trump’s apologists in the conservative media. If President Barack Obama had shredded his notes of a meeting with the Iranian president, or if Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager were sitting in jail for lying about meeting a Chinese business associate — and alleged intelligence officer — to share polling data, that alone would have been enough for the GOP to impeach everyone from the president to the White House chef.

Safe to say we are in a slow-moving Constitutional crisis and far and away the scariest part of it is not Trump’s actions, but that the Republican Party still so decidedly enables him.

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