The fundamental misunderstanding at the heart of this administration

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Jeff Sessions swearing in as Attorney General, courtesy wikimedia.org

Recent tweets and speeches he’s given have the President throwing Jeff Sessions under the bus – the reasons given for his unhappiness are fairly nebulous. It is reported that he is looking for ways to get a new Attorney General, but this may alienate the wrong people – people Trump not only needs to be a successful president, but continue to be president at all if things get ugly enough for him.

Let’s be clear here – Trump wants Sessions gone because, due to Sessions’ recusal, Sessions cannot fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating the Trump campaign and its ties to Russia. If Trump was truly unhappy with the recusal itself, or with Sessions’ unwillingness to investigate Hillary Clinton, he would have voiced this months ago.

There are a number of different ways he could do this. He could outright fire Sessions, Sessions could resign under pressure, or he could move Sessions to a new department. The first two would anger the conservative base and likely cross a red line for the GOP, who almost unanimously respect Sessions as a principled conservative. The third option, while it would anger the GOP less than the others, would still create problems for Trump.

This is coming up now because Trump wants to end the Russia investigation, and he can’t. Sessions recused himself from the investigation, as he said he would in his testimony to the Senate. The next person in charge of the special counsel is the Deputy AG, Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller in the first place and would refuse to fire him. Therefore Trump has his hands tied – his only option for firing Mueller would be appointing a new Attorney General.

But this is also a ridiculous idea. Since the Attorney General is a position that would need Senate approval, the Senate would demand absolute independence of any new nominee from the Russia investigation as a condition of confirmation. GOP Senators have already drawn a line in the sand with this. This is especially true since Trump is now distancing his administration from the GOP, maybe even “declaring war” on the Republican Congress, who are increasingly seeing no reason to do Trump’s bidding. It is also reminiscent of Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre” where he fired acting Attorneys General down the line until somebody agreed to fire the special counsel. It was later used to justify his impeachment on grounds of obstruction of justice. The world would also see it as an admission of guilt – why burn through all the political capital you don’t have to end an investigation if you are innocent?

The Senate, while they might not move to impeach Trump due to GOP control, might instead use this action to justify hiring their own special prosecutor if Trump finds a way to fire Mueller – possibly hiring Mueller right back.


So what’s the deal? Why go through all this?

A large part of Trump’s appeal was that he was the master negotiator – he “alone” can do what no other politician can do. And a large part of the criticism of Trump was that he has no government experience. Wouldn’t a master negotiator see the bind he has already created for himself, the fact that he has already burned what little political capital he has, and leave well enough alone? Or is there some fundamental misunderstanding here – one that explains all of Trump’s actions so far in his short presidency?

I believe Trump thinks of himself as the boss of the American government. I believe that, lacking even a rudimentary understanding of civics, this is how Trump makes sense of our very complicated federal government. He thinks he is the boss – that the Attorney General is his own personal attorney, that the Justice Department is his personal police force, that the Joint Chiefs are his personal generals, and probably even that the president is the “boss” of Congress. This is why, when any of these individuals act with any sense of independence, he is angered. This is also why Trump thought Obama was weak and ineffective – he didn’t understand that the president doesn’t just tell others in the government what to do.

The man literally doesn’t understand that the president has to work to build political capital by working with others on an equal footing, finding compromises and joint solutions. He thinks the reason we have problems in America aren’t because solutions are complicated, but because other presidents weren’t bossy enough. He thinks, by acting with independence, others in government are “disobeying” him.

This is also why Trump will get weaker and less effective as time goes on. Those people will get thrown under the bus, fired, replaced by people actually willing to take the job, and he will have the same problem all over again. Or in the case of Congress, he will alienate them while simultaneously empowering them to stand up to him as only Congress can.

This time, with Jeff Sessions, Trump will step on a landmine if he tries to replace him with an AG willing to fire Mueller. It will set off a chain reaction that will end with, at the absolute least, a lame duck administration. The founders of our Constitution designed our government this way for a reason – to stop a president exactly like Trump from getting away with crimes and abuses of power. And it’s these same abuses of power that Trump sees as the actual role of the President, confusing checks on the power of the Executive Branch as weakness among his staff and cabinet. Fortunately for us, the Constitution provides guidance on handling such abuses, and Trump will be in for a rude awakening if he doesn’t come to terms to this fact quickly.

Reminder that July 4th is a day to honor and protect freedom

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The Constitution, courtesy pixabay.com
This Independence Day, the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, let’s not forget the institutions that the Founding Fathers felt were so important that they fought a war against an empire to establish them. Institutions that the Founders established to help protect freedom and stave off totalitarian rule in America as long as possible. Institutions like a free and independent press, freedom of assembly, and the freedom to vote and participate in the election of our leaders through representative government.

As the (very) conservative Ronald Reagan once said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

Freedom is fragile. It can be taken away in a heartbeat. Especially today, when so many of these institutions are under attack from the very people we have charged to defend them.


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Trump “attacking” CNN – courtesy talkingpointsmemo.com
The President on a daily basis undermines the free and independent press. He calls CNN (and any media outlet that criticizes him, really) “fake news.” As the (very) conservative John McCain put it, dictators get started by attacking the free press.

The free press is the only profession protected by the Constitution. It is this way for a reason – media must be free and independent in order to speak truth to power. In order to hold leaders accountable, a lawmaker or elected official need to constantly believe that every conversation they have or decision they make could end up in the paper the next day. This is why the press is so important in a democracy, and also why authoritarian rulers have sought to undermine them from time immemorial. It’s the same reason the sitting President wishes to undermine them – because they publish politically inconvenient reporting about him and his administration, reporting he would rather not have the public know.

Critics of CNN and liberal or left-leaning media have often said that they are “liars” – that they make things up in order to damage Trump politically. While this is not only false – it is irrelevant, because their existence alone establishes accountability. This is, again, why the free press is protected in the first amendment. It is a cornerstone to democracy.


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Dana Loesch from the recent NRA ad – courtesy pastemagazine.com
Or how about the attacks on freedom of assembly? The NRA released a video that is controversial even among faithful gun owners, because it paints those that protest and assemble as enemies of the state. The gist of the video – while this is left unsaid, it can be inferred – is that we need guns now more than ever because we may need to shoot liberals. The video conjures imagery that is, essentially, a call to violence against those who disagree with conservatives politically. It is a dog whistle for civil war.

Let alone all of the rhetoric that has been swirling since the shooting of Steve Scalise and other GOP lawmakers that paint liberals and Democrats as terrorists, equating them with radical Islamists. This is an attack on the freedom to assemble, a freedom that is once again enshrined in the constitution for a reason. People need legal protection in order to stand up to their government so that their voices cannot be silenced by violent means.


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Donald Trump and Kris Kobach, courtesy salon.com
Or what about the attacks on the right to vote? It is no secret that the Republican party has used Voter ID and other measures as a means to keep minorities from voting for Democrats. This has been proven time and time again. But now it seems the alt-right has taken to voter suppression as a way to retroactively remake the white patriarchy.

As you’ve might have heard, 27 states refused to hand over sensitive voter information to Trump’s voter fraud commission. (Edit: the number of states that refused to send information, whole or in part, is now up to 41) This commission is spearheaded by Kris Kobach, a very intelligent and highly educated white nationalist who believes that immigration is challenging a “white protestant culture” by flipping the political landscape to favor Democrats. To fight this, Kobach’s plan has been to rescind voting rights from those who favor immigration (minorities and immigrants who are most likely to vote for Democrats), and use that power to limit immigration and the “infiltration” of foreign ideas into America.

In other words, Kobach wants to artificially and retroactively protect Republican pluralities by literally keeping those who disagree with him from voting. And states refused to hand this information over for good reason – there is very scant evidence that voter fraud is an issue, while there is simultaneously an overwhelming amount of evidence that Kobach plans to restrict voting rights for some of our most marginalized and most vulnerable citizens. Imagine feeling so insecure in your vision for America that instead of convincing voters that it’s the correct path forward – you seek to keep them from voting at all.

At best this voter fraud panel serves to boost Trump’s ego, and at worst it is an attack on the foundation of our democracy itself.


Let us not forget the foundations of freedom on this July 4th. And let us not forget the need to defend them. As people say, freedom isn’t free.

When taking the Oath of Enlistment into the Army, our soldiers vow to protect our country from all enemies – foreign and domestic. Sadly, right now the most looming threat against the Constitution is domestic. Leaders we trust to defend the Constitution are doing everything in their power to undermine some of our most basic rights enshrined within it. From undermining the free press, to painting peaceful resistance and political disagreement as something we need to arm ourselves against, to taking away the right to vote from the people who are most marginalized – there is an organized campaign against the foundations of democracy that our Founding Fathers established to protect us from tyranny.

Let’s not only hope we won’t some day have to explain to our grandchildren what it was like to be free in America – let’s take action to keep it from happening.

The country is potentially in a very dangerous situation

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Jared Kushner, Senior Advisor to President Donald J. Trump, sits in on a meeting with Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at the Ministry of Defense in Baghdad, Iraq, April 3, 2017. ([Department of Defense] Photo by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro). Accessed via flickr.com.
The story of Jared Kushner’s attempt to open a back channel of communication with the Kremlin is the first glimpse the public has into the possibility of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin (which the FBI has been investigating for a year now).

Given that there is a possibility of illegal activity here, let’s explore a few scenarios of how Trump could leave office in the coming years:

  1. He loses a re-election bid
  2. He is impeached and removed from office forcefully
  3. He completes two full terms

In all but situation 3, we may have a problem here. Given that Trump has praised foreign dictators for being “strong leaders” by instituting martial law, killing their own citizens by the thousands, destroying checks and balances with questionable power grabs, and the like – we know that Trump does not believe in democracy. And since he does not believe in democracy, we can’t be sure that he believes in the peaceful transition of power.

Can you foresee a situation where Trump has to leave office against his own will? Will he gracefully step down if he loses his re-election or, especially, if he’s impeached? Or will we have a constitutional crisis on our hands?

Democracy is inherently fragile, and is only as strong as the integrity of those willing to defend it.

Let’s just imagine in our heads a situation where Donald Trump loses his re-election to a Democrat in 2020. Given how 2016 went, we know the campaign is probably going to be a long, ugly, a demoralizing bloodbath between him and whoever runs in opposition. Trump may even label his opponent as a danger to the country, painting a scary and dangerous picture for voters of the ugly possibilities of what may happen to America if we allow this opponent to take office. We may have sweeping breaches of voting rights by 2020, given that the Republican party as a whole has shown little interest in protecting them. Trump may call the results rigged, or illegitimate; he may use everything in his power to throw mud into the gears of what has always been a peaceful transfer of power in this country. And using “everything in his power” – he’s the president of the United States. He has a lot of power.

But this isn’t even the scariest possibility. Let’s say the FBI, or leaks to the press, or any of the other investigations into his campaign uncover something illegal and impeachable. What if Trump calls it all illegitimate, as he’s already done so far? What if Congress strips him of his power and he says “no?” Trump for the most part controls the military and the police. Using that power to hold onto the presidency might sound like a far fetched scenario, but democracy is inherently fragile, and is only as strong as the integrity of those willing to defend it. As I said, we know Trump isn’t interested in defending democracy; from the looks of things he is only willing to defend himself. And remember that this country has gone to civil war in the past.

Those hoping that Trump will be impeached don’t account for the fact that this country will be in crisis if it comes to that. Even if Trump was successfully removed from power against his will, the extreme partisan divisions that exist right now could very well turn into deep trenches. Our people could turn on one another in ways we haven’t yet thought possible – those who support Trump and those who support his impeachment. Even now, more Republican voters trust Putin, possibly more than they trust Democrats. To think we would be able to pick up the pieces, unite as a country, and go back to normal in a situation like this is a long shot. If it came to that, there would be significant harm done to this country’s institutions, one way or another.

Even at this moment, Trump is using a very familiar playbook. Evan McMullin, who ran for president as a conservative independent in 2016, had this to say about it: “Accelerating investigations place the Trump administration in a familiar authoritarian quandary. Remaining in power subjects them to increasingly compromising scrutiny while offering the best protection from its consequences. So they become evermore willing to take extraordinary, illegal steps to hold onto power as a matter of self-preservation. It remains to be seen what form this will take in the case of the Trump administration.”

Let’s hope that if it comes to this, there are enough Americans left to put the country before party loyalty. But at the moment, in our current hyper-partisan political climate, I’m not convinced that’s the case.