On Monday, President Trump angrily lashed out at the Justice Department for defending the weaker second version of his immigration ban. This was odd, because Trump himself signed the executive order promulgating that revised version, which was ostensibly designed to address the court’s concerns about the first — objections the White House itself said it hoped to address.
He has intermittently fumed for months over Mr. Sessions’s decision to recuse himself from the investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s election, according to people close to Mr. Trump who insisted on anonymity to describe internal conversations. In Mr. Trump’s view, they said, it was that recusal that eventually led to the appointment of a special counsel who took over the investigation.
Trump appears worryingly unable to contemplate his own role in bringing about the special counsel. The firing of FBI director James Comey led to reports that Trump allegedly demanded Comey’s loyalty and to Trump’s admission he fired Comey over the Russia probe. That revealed the Justice Department’s memo providing Trump his initial rationale for the firing (Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton probe) was bogus. Which led to the special counsel.
Beyond this, though, note this: Trump’s seething anger at Sessions is disconcertingly similar to the anger that led him to fire Comey. As the Times previously reported, Trump privately “burned” as he watched Comey testify to Congress about Russia’s efforts to tip the election to Trump, and was “particularly irked” when Comey conceded his own intervention, via a letter about Clinton’s emails, may have influenced the outcome, which Trump “took to demean his own role in history.” The Post added that Trump was “infuriated” at the FBI’s failure to investigate and stop leaks, which have led to news accounts detailing what the Russia probe was finding.
Both Comey and Sessions enraged Trump because in some manner or other, they failed to show a level of loyalty to Trump that would have trumped (as it were) legitimate processes. Comey kept publicly validating the Russia investigation (which Trump dismisses as nothing but Fake News) and would not make it disappear by stopping leaks about it. Sessions recused himself to display (nominal) independence, which Trump somehow interpreted as a lapse into weakness that led to the special counsel, further affirming the probe’s weightiness.
Students of authoritarianism see a pattern taking shape
Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a professor of history at New York University who writes extensively on authoritarianism and Italian fascism, told me that a discernible trait of authoritarian and autocratic rulers is ongoing “frustration” with the “inability to make others do their bidding” and with “institutional and bureaucratic procedures and checks and balances.”
“Trump doesn’t respect democratic procedure and finds it to be something that gets in his way,” Ben-Ghiat said. “The blaming of others is very typical of autocrats, because they have difficulty listening to a reality that doesn’t coincide with their version of it. It’s part of the authoritarian temperament to blame others when things aren’t working.”
Trump expects independent officials “to behave according to personal loyalty, as opposed to following the rules,” added Timothy Snyder, a history professor at Yale University who wrote “On Tyranny,” a book of lessons from the 20th Century. “For Trump, that is how the world is supposed to work. Trump doesn’t understand that in the world there might truly be laws and rules that constrain a leader.”
Snyder noted that authoritarian tendencies often go hand in hand with impatience at such constraints. “You have to have morality and a set of institutions that escape the normal balance of administrative practice,” Snyder said. “You have to be able to lie all the time. You have to have people around you who tell you how wonderful you are all the time. You have to have institutions which don’t follow the law and instead follow some kind of law of loyalty.”
It seems obvious that early worries about an unbound authoritarian Trump — fears that our institutions would not hold up or that Trump would bulldoze them — now look overblown. But nonetheless, echoes of these traits do appear present. The nonstop lying appears designed to obliterate shared agreement on the legitimate institutional role of the news media in holding Trump accountable to some semblance of shared truth and reality. Many of those lies exaggerate the significance of his electoral victory: There’s the claim that Trump would have won the popular vote if not for millions of illegal voters; the buffoonish efforts to inflate his inaugural crowd sizes; and the assertion that Barack Obama wiretapped his phones, showing that he, too, had been illicitly targeted during the election.
Trump’s underlings must constantly find ever-more-creative ways of propping up those lies: A “vote fraud” commission; Sean Spicer’s assaults on the media for minimizing Trump’s crowd sizes; the internal hunt for “evidence” of the Obama wiretap; and so forth. But the Russia probe persists. It plainly nags at Trump because he believes it undercuts his legitimacy. Sessions and Comey have both failed to make it go away. He is reportedly raging about it, and even fired Comey over it. And Comey hasn’t even told his side of the story in public yet.
Foreign governments speed up trademark applications from Trump businesses. Foreign officials curry favor by staying at his hotel. A senior administration official urges people to buy Ivanka Trump’s clothing. The president violates bipartisan tradition by refusing to release his tax returns, thus shrouding his conflicts…
The behavior has no precedent. “Trump and his administration are flagrantly violating ethics laws,” the former top ethics advisers to George W. Bush and Barack Obama have written.
Their attitude is clear: If we’re doing it, it’s O.K.
This often escapes notice, but Trump’s serial shredding of baseline norms of ethics and transparency is also a key component of his autocracy — he does this, because he can.
He is exercising core presidential powers over foreign affairs that the courts may restrict if Mr. Trump keeps daring them to do so … Trump has given liberal judges Twitter evidence to conclude that his motives may be suspect. At the very least he is making it harder to corral a Supreme Court majority.
It turns out that pushing a plan that would leave 23 million fewer covered, gut protections for preexisting conditions, and cut hundreds of billions from health spending on poor people to fund an enormous tax cut for the rich might turn voters off.
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said leadership is “optimistic and we’ll see how it goes in the next few days.” But he said the Senate at a certain point will need to move on: “I don’t think this gets better over time,” he said. “My personal view is we’ve got now until the Fourth of July to decide whether the votes are there or not.”
We’ll see. I would not be surprised if Senate Republicans who currently oppose the worst aspects of the House GOP approach suddenly find a way to argue they have been mitigated in the Senate version.
68 percent of Americans want the United States to lead global efforts to slow climate change, and 72 percent agree “that given the amount of greenhouse gases that it produces, the United States should take aggressive action to slow global warming.” … Even so, Americans rank the environment near the bottom of their list of priorities for the country. Only about 4 percent of Americans believe that the “environment” is a bigger issue than healthcare, the economy, terrorism, immigration, education, crime and morality.
And there you have it. Climate activists may be winning the argument, but no one knows how to make this a voting issue.
High-level Democratic operatives remain confident that Clinton’s treatment from Republicans was singularly brutal, a result of decades’ worth of history as a leading figure in the public eye — something that none of the four possible top-tier 2020 hopefuls have endured. So while strategists are concerned about sexism weighing them down, the expectation is that they’d face a less furious reaction than Clinton.
This seems right. Clinton was uniquely pilloried for over two decades, and this — plus her own obvious flaws — surely helped explain the durability of her high negatives.
* TRUMP TRIPLES DOWN ON ‘TRAVEL BAN’: Last night, Trump again tweeted that his travel ban is a Goddamn travel ban, even if Sean Spicer and the lawyers say it isn’t