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.

If Trump is guilty and pardons himself, it opens a door none of us want opened

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Robert Mueller, courtesy pbs.org

New reports are showing that the President has asked aides about his pardon powers – for his family, his allies, even himself, if the special counsel’s investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia incriminates him.

A lot of Trump supporters have been saying they don’t care. If they haven’t outright denied any of the Russia business is true (#FakeNews!), then generally the refrain goes something like “Russia didn’t tell me who to vote for,” or “I don’t care about any of that, I want better jobs and a better economy.”

I can’t blame people for thinking this way. Of all the scandals and controversy we have seen in the news lately, much of it doesn’t affect our daily lives. If Trump colluded with Russia, it doesn’t directly affect my pay, my job security, my healthcare, or my children’s education. As far as these people are concerned, that’s all on TV, happening far away, for those people in suits in DC to argue about.

But a large part of Trump’s appeal was that he wasn’t influenced by anyone. He stood on his own, against the establishment, paying his way through his own campaign. He owed nothing to the millionaire and billionaire business interests of the party (in fact many of them actively worked against him), to the Washington establishment, to the Republican Party itself – it seemed he owed nothing to anyone besides his supporters. It was believed that he would work for nobody besides the little guy – the factory worker, the coal miner, the laborer.

This was their guy – the guy the working class supported to finally turn the neoliberal establishment on its head, as punishment for screwing them over for decades.

Why was this so appealing? Because of sovereignty. The idea was that Trump represented the power of the working class, pooling their voting power to finally fight back against the establishment which has enacted policy after policy that hurt them. The working class was regaining sovereignty over the federal government.

This is also why Russia meddling in our election is so dangerous, and why it does affect our daily lives. And why, if it does happen to come out that Trump was complicit in this collusion, he cannot be allowed to pardon himself. Putin has threatened our sovereignty, and if he is allowed to get away with it, it will open the door for every other major power on the planet to threaten our sovereignty as well.

A Trump supporter who thinks this doesn’t affect them should think about the possibility of Germany, or the European Union, or China supporting Trump’s opponent in 2020 – using state resources to hack Trump’s campaign or worse. This would weaken your support of your candidate, as you would be up against some of the most powerful political forces on Earth, who are out for their own interest – not yours.

It is already bad enough that Russia is seeing no fallout from the Republican majority for their actions. It would be infinitely worse if the president was guilty and pardoned himself, getting off scot free. This would not only open the door for every other power on Earth to meddle in our elections, but it would also give the President the power to break any law he or she wanted. You may feel that the special counsel’s Russia investigation is a witch hunt, but Trump won’t be in power forever. Do you want a Democrat to be able to break any law they want while in office? What if one day a socialist holds the office of the presidency?

What if a future president (that you may not like) defies the Supreme Court and pardons themself? If this seems far fetched and extreme, look at this headline in the Wall Street Journal this week.

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Courtesy Wall Street Journal, https://www.wsj.com/articles/poland-presses-forward-with-plan-to-remake-supreme-court-1500559212

Imagine what our headlines would look like if the President had no checks and balances on their power.

If you voted for Trump, or voted at all, some part of you must believe in your sovereignty. Don’t be complicit in losing it.