Lazy Caturday Reads: Trump Is Successfully Damaging U.S. Institutions

By Paula Zima

Good Afternoon!!

It’s time to recognize that Trump is actively trying to destroy our democratic institutions. Yes he is crude, stupid, and narcissistic, be he is succeeding. I wonder if we really can recover from the damage he has done.

At The National, Hussein Ibish writes: In his drive to dismantle American institutions, Trump is following in Erdogan’s footsteps.

This year’s Thanksgiving holiday in the United States was punctuated by an unprecedented war of words between President Donald Trump and Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.

Mr Trump dismissed the federal judiciary as, in effect, partisan hacks. Mr Roberts fired back defending judicial integrity. The Republican heads of two of the three branches of US government were suddenly clashing.

But this was readily foreseeable. In these pages, I have been tracking Mr Trump’s experiment in American de-institutionalisation, and specifically predicted it back on June 2.

By Abraham van Strij

Observing that the US president was systematically discrediting all sources of authority and veracity beyond his own direct control − beginning with the press, and moving on to Congress, the FBI and Justice Department, and the intelligence services – I wrote that “his probable next target is alarmingly obvious. An independent judiciary is an enormous obstacle and threat to any leader. The courts must be next…”

Mr Trump has never had any respect for courts. He repeatedly attacked Gonzalo Curiel, the judge presiding over the lawsuit against his “Trump University” over alleged fraudulent practices, as a hopelessly biased “Mexican”, although he was born in Indiana.

Ibish describes the similarities to Erdogan in Turkey.

Mr Erdogan inherited a Turkish system with many institutions, no matter how fledgling or fragile they may have been. He has systematically dismantled them, particularly after the failed 2016 coup attempt, and replaced them with hollow institutional simulacra that, in reality, simply rubberstamp his own decisions.

Whether he fully realises it or not, that’s exactly the de-institutionalisation process Mr Trump is groping towards in the United States.

And he is going down the list of independent sources of authority and information with a relatively impressive precision, beginning with the media, which was low-hanging fruit, and only now directly attacking the courts and his other new target: senior military leaders, such as the widely respected retired Admiral William McRaven, architect of the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Ibish isn’t completely negative; he suggests that the SCOTUS and the Mueller investigation may still stop Trump, but right now it certainly seems that Trump is making rapid progress, especially in his efforts to compromise the Department of Justice and the FBI. At the moment he’s also working to make the CIA irrelevant.

By David Brooke

Remember early on in his presidency Trump praised Erdogan for successfully creating an autocracy in Turkey. The New York Times (April 17, 2017): Trump Congratulates Erdogan on Turkey Vote Cementing His Rule.

President Trump called President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey on Monday to congratulate him on winning a much-disputed referendum that will cement his autocratic rule over the country and, in the view of many experts, erode Turkey’s democratic institutions.

Those concerns were not mentioned in a brief readout of the phone call that the White House released Monday night. After noting Mr. Trump’s congratulations, the one-paragraph statement pivoted to a recent American missile strike on a Syrian airfield, which it said he and Mr. Erdogan had also discussed.

The statement did not say whether Mr. Trump had raised independent reports of voting irregularities during the Turkish referendum or the government’s heavy-handed tactics in the weeks leading up to it, when the country was under a state of emergency. The State Department noted both issues in a more cautious, less laudatory statement issued a few hours earlier.

The White House was also silent about the long-term implications of the referendum, which some experts have likened to a deathblow to democracy in Turkey.

Clearly, Trump did not see those outcomes as in any way negative.

In March of 2018, Trump praised China’s Xi Jinping gaining the power to be “president for life.” The Guardian: ‘Maybe we’ll give that a shot’: Donald Trump praises Xi Jinping’s power grab.

Donald Trump has celebrated Xi Jinping’s bid to shepherd China back into an era of one-man dictatorship, suggesting the United States might one day “give that a shot”.


By Fritz von Uhde

China’s authoritarian leader took power in 2012 and had been expected to rule until 2023. However, last week it emerged that Xi would attempt to use an annual meeting of China’s parliament, which kicks off on Monday morning, to abolish presidential term limits by changing the Chinese constitution.

Liberals have condemned the power grab, which will almost certainly be approved by members of the National People’s Congress who have flocked to Beijing for the two-week summit. Experts say the amendment paves the way for Xi to be China’s ruler-for-life. “This is a critical moment in China’s history,” Cheng Li, a prominent expert in elite Chinese politics who has criticised the move, told AP.

However, Trump offered a more positive assessment during a fundraising event at his Mar-a-Lago estate, where he hosted Xi last April. “He’s now president for life. President for life. And he’s great,” the US president reportedly told Republican donors.

“And look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll give that a shot some day,” Trump added, according to CNN which obtained a recording of what it described as an upbeat, joke-filled speech.

In his foreign policy decisions, Trump is working to destroy the reputation of the U.S. as a defender of human rights. The latest shocking example is his support of Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman’s murder of a Saudi dissident journalist. Jackson Diehl at The Washington Post: How the Khashoggi killing ruinously defined Trump.

Sometimes a middling foreign policy crisis produces a presidential decision of far more consequence. It clarifies and crystallizes the executive’s core instincts, thereby establishing a road map for managing the United States that countries around the world then follow. President Trump’s decision to excuse Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman for ordering the murder and dismemberment of one of his own citizens will be one of those junctures.

By Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798 – 1861)

Trump’s “maybe he did and maybe he didn’t” proclamation last Tuesday looked like a hasty, Thanksgiving Eve attempt to rid himself of a troubling mess in a part of the world that he wishes he could forget. Yet like President Barack Obama’s retreat from his own red line on Syria’s use of chemical weapons, Trump’s failure to exact accountability for the slaying of journalist Jamal Khashoggi will resonate far beyond the Middle East.

In Obama’s case, the world learned that the U.S. president was not willing to back up U.S. leadership with military force, even at the expense of his own credibility. Russia and China responded accordingly; the invasions of the South China Sea and Ukraine followed.

The Khashoggi affair similarly confirms several fundamental truths about Trump. The first and most obvious is that his narrow, idiosyncratic and sometimes personalinterests take precedence over the defense of traditional American values and even the expectation of honest treatment by an ally. Not just Mohammed’s fellow Arab rulers but despots everywhere will study this case and conclude: If you heap flattery on Trump, court him with exotic entertainment, patronize his family businesses and promise to buy American, you can get away with outrages that would once have ensured censure and sanction from Washington.

We can hope for pushback on Trump’s authoritarian impulses from a Democratic House beginning in January, but right now the main opposition to Trump is coming from the courts and legal scholars, including Chief Justice John Roberts and Kellyanne Conway’s husband George Conway. ABC News:

This time, George Conway issued President Donald Trump a fact check on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, the largest of the circuit courts and a target of the president’s anger after a judge in Northern California blocked him from banning asylum seekers who didn’t enter the country at specific points of entry.

By Frank R. Sofo

The federal trial judge, Judge Jon Tigar, ruled against the president last week. Current U.S. immigration law, as Judge Jon Tigar interpreted it in the case, allows people to seek asylum no matter where they enter. Tigar is not actually a judge for the 9th Circuit, but the case will likely head there once appealed….

“Every case that gets filed in the 9th Circuit, we get beaten,” Trump said. He also called Tigar an “Obama judge” because he was appointed by former President Barack Obama in 2012. The intended insult prompted a strong — and rare — rebuke from Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative-leaning Supreme Court judge, who underlined that there are no “Obama judges” — judges do “their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them.”

That’s when George Conway got involved, as did other legal scholars.

Their first point was that the 9th Circuit is not particularly special when it comes to reversals before the Supreme Court.

Read the details at the link above.

Yesterday Dakinikat wrote about the recent court decision that “collusion” is a crime. Later yesterday we learned the New York Attorney General’s lawsuit against the Trump Foundation will proceed. The New York Times:

A state judge ruled on Friday that a lawsuit by the New York State attorney general could proceed against President Trump and the Trump Foundation over allegations of misused charitable assets, self-dealing and campaign finance violations during the 2016 presidential campaign.

By Michael Peter Ancher

Mr. Trump’s lawyers had argued that the court did not have jurisdiction over Mr. Trump, as president, and that the statutes of limitations had expired in the case of some of the actions at issue. They also contended the attorney general’s office suffered from a “pervasive bias” against Mr. Trump.

In her 27-page ruling, Justice Saliann Scarpulla disagreed. “I find I have jurisdiction over Mr. Trump,” she wrote….

It was the second time this year that a New York State judge in Manhattan had decided that Mr. Trump, just because he is president, is not immune from civil court cases that involve his unofficial activities or actions that took place before he was in office.

In June, Justice Jennifer Schecter ruled that a defamation lawsuit could proceed against Mr. Trump for disparaging women who accused him of sexual misconduct. The suit was brought by Summer Zervos, a former contestant on Mr. Trump’s reality show “The Apprentice.”

Justice Schecter wrote in her ruling: “There is absolutely no authority for dismissing or staying a civil action related purely to unofficial conduct because the defendant is the President of the United States.” Justice Scarpulla quoted the passage in her own ruling.

Justice Scarpulla also cited the decision to allow a sexual harassment suit brought by Paula Jones against Bill Clinton to proceed during his time as president.

So there is still hope, but I think we need to recognize that Trump is actively working to become a dictator. It can happen here.

What stories are you following today?

26 Comments on “Lazy Caturday Reads: Trump Is Successfully Damaging U.S. Institutions”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    I have to wonder how Trump failed to prevent this climate report from being released. Even though the administration did it on the Friday after Thanksgiving, it got a lot of attention. Maybe the scientists he hasn’t managed to purge are pushing back too.

    The New York Times: U.S. Climate Report Warns of Damaged Environment and Shrinking Economy.

    • NW Luna says:

      Good to see this story getting attention even the day after Thanksgiving. I read the article dakinikat linked to on last thread. WaPo has it on their front page.

      • NW Luna says:

  2. dakinikat says:

    The cat paintings are wonderful as usual. The good news is the courts are still working for the moment. We need to stop Mitch’s court stacking and watch Trump’s continued attack on them. It’s frightening!

  3. OG says:

    Trump is just a total mystery to me. I think he us totally ignorant of how our government works and has very little knowledge of or interest in anything other than real estate.
    I don’t think he will do lasting damage. We have strong institutions to protect our system.
    It sure is a mess. That much I can say.

    • NW Luna says:

      I would like to think this. However seeing how the Republicans have closed ranks to support Trump’s changes makes me doubt how easy it will be undo what he’s done. His appointments to the judiciary will have repercussions for decades.

      Agree that he has no knowledge of or interest in how our government works. He’s operating with his smash, grab and grift repertoire.

      • OG says:

        The judicial appointments will have the most effect. I am in favor of mandatory retirement for judges at age seventy.

  4. NW Luna says:

    • quixote says:

      To Joey “Ball of Fire” Abbott: Rebecca Solnit, How many husbands control the votes of their wives? We’ll never know

      There’s a form of voter intimidation that widespread and unacknowledged. It’s the husbands who bully and silence and control their wives, as witnessed by dozens of door-to-door canvassers across the country I heard from.
      Sign up to receive the latest US opinion pieces every weekday

      I started asking around and found that a lot of get-out-the-vote ground troops had witnessed various forms of such bullying, intimidation and silencing in relation to this election and in earlier elections, too.

      Lots more examples at the link. Somehow, I wouldn’t be surprised if Joey “Ball of Fire” Abbott has one right in his own house.

      • NW Luna says:

        The bad thing about voting by mail with paper ballots is this possibility of the bullying husband telling his wife how to fill out her ballot — or completing the form for her.

        A few years ago I was at the library and saw a woman wearing a headscarf with a man next to her who, from the ballots and envelopes between them, looked like he was “explaining” to the woman how to filling out her ballot. Somehow from the body language I got the impression that she was marking her ballot as the man told her to.

        (Yes, I see headscarves and I think: patriarchal women-as-chattel culture. I know it’s not always the case, but it’s more than just ethnic style that keeps women wrapped up in confining bulky garments.)

        • Sweet Sue says:

          I loved it when I voted in NYC, so long ago. You go into a private, little space and close the curtain. It’s your business.

  5. bostonboomer says:

    Thanks to Delphyne for tweeting this fascinating and moving story from the Fargo Forum.

  6. bostonboomer says:

    • quixote says:

      Her parents sent her there, so it’s mildly interesting re her background. What’s more interesting is that she, herself, sent her daughter to that kind of school.

  7. bostonboomer says:

    NBC News: A murder of a Harvard grad student in 1969 has been solved through DNA and ancestry data.

    Investigators were able to connect a serial rapist to the 1969 murder of Harvard University student Jane Britton by connecting old DNA evidence to a relative on, Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan said at a press conference Tuesday.

    “I am today confident that the mystery of who killed Jane Britton has finally been solved,” Ryan told reporters.

    Michael Sumpter, who was 54 when he died of cancer in 2001, was connected to Britton’s murder through the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System and confirmed through a biological brother found by a genealogical website. Sumpter’s brother was cooperative and offered to give a DNA sample necessary for a conclusive match, Ryan said.

  8. bostonboomer says:

  9. bostonboomer says:

  10. quixote says:

    “I think we need to recognize that Trump is actively working to become a dictator. It can happen here.”

    In 2016 I was thinking, “Oh come on. He’ll never get the nomination. Karl Rove will stop it. Which professional GOPer wants a total grifting idiot on their masthead?”

    Then, “Oh come on. *Nobody* is going to vote for that turd for president.” “Gawd. Who calls for Putin to spy on a political opponent in a *public campaign speech*? ???? (Even his jokes are pathetic.)”

    We all know what time has shown. So the fact that I’m now thinking, “He’s such an over the top baboon, nobody could ever really fall for this. Right? *Right?*” well, it just confirms your point.

    Preet Bharara said long ago that Mueller wasn’t going to save the country. That’s not his job. But if he doesn’t, there’s nothing else left.

  11. Sweet Sue says:

    Don’t give in. Don’t give up. That’s what Trump and his goons want. Gloria Steinem said “Don’t let them take your hope.”

  12. RonStill4Hills says:

    Shout out to THE Ohio State University. 🏈!

  13. dakinikat says:

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  14. dakinikat says: