Obama gave us some very good lessons on au­toc­racy

Texarkana Gazette - - OPINION - Jay Am­brose

An At­lantic mag­a­zine ar­ti­cle by Wash­ing­ton jour­nal­ist David Frum frets about a com­ing au­toc­racy en­gi­neered by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, and the amaz­ing thing is that the au­thor did not no­tice the past eight years. It’s as if Noah’s Ark had fi­nally landed and the un­der­stood mes­sage was that a flood was only now on its way.

Equally bad as Trump is this kind of over­wrought de­spair about him, the round-the-clock cry­ing, the fa­nat­i­cal di­a­tribes, the ri­ot­ing, the celebrity angst, the in­tel­lec­tual wannabes wor­ry­ing them­selves into para­noia. Yes, Trump is as de­based as de­based gets for a pres­i­dent of the United States of Amer­ica. He is ig­no­rant, small-minded, vul­gar, in­sen­si­tive, inar­tic­u­late and ego­tis­ti­cal, for starters.

But all of this has to be viewed in con­text, and the con­text is Hil­lary Clin­ton, of course, the main en­cour­age­ment for mul­ti­tudes of Trump vot­ers, and also Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, the op­po­site of Trump in so­phis­ti­ca­tion though not in ego. He hap­pened to be un­equipped as pres­i­dent to ne­go­ti­ate with his as­sumed in­fe­ri­ors but pre­pared to dis­card demo­cratic prin­ci­ples if they got in his legacy’s way.

“We’re not just go­ing to be wait­ing for leg­is­la­tion,” said O ba main 2014 after Repub­li­cans cap­tured the Se­nate on top of con­trol­ling the House. “I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone, and I can use that pen to sign ex­ec­u­tive or­ders and take ex­ec­u­tive ac­tions and ad­min­is­tra­tive ac­tions that move the ball for­ward.”

In other words, so much for con­sti­tu­tional checks and bal­ances and on with un­flinch­ing power. It wasn’t just talk. It was ac­tion. Frum, to his credit, does men­tion Obama’s grant­ing le­gal sta­tus to vast num­bers of il­le­gal im­mi­grants after say­ing at least 22 times that he had no au­thor­ity to do that with­out con­gres­sional ap­proval. He was right. The or­der is now in court.

Also in court in his or­der es­tab­lish­ing a sweep­ing Clean Power Plan that would cost Amer­i­cans a for­tune in util­ity bills, erase scads of jobs and do zip about global warm­ing (as ad­mit­ted by EPA di­rec­tor Gina Mc­Carthy). It was based on a plain mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion of law and would sim­ply scut­tle state laws un­con­sti­tu­tion­ally (as ar­gued by con­sti­tu­tional ex­pert Lau­rence Tribe).

There is much, much more along these lines, but con­sider one of the surest ways of au­to­cratic op­pres­sion in these United States, and that’s tens of thou­sands of pages of reg­u­la­tions that aim to mi­cro­man­age busi­nesses and your life. Guess who holds records on all of this? Obama, of course. The most im­pres­sive of these, au­to­crat­i­cally speak­ing, is his 600 ma­jor reg­u­la­tions cost­ing a to­tal of $743 bil­lion. You can run but you can’t hide.

Frum spends a lot of time on sub­jects ir­rel­e­vant to his main topic, such as pos­si­ble con­flicts of in­ter­est. He gets down­right ridicu­lous when he ap­par­ently thinks Trump’s rhetoric is more dan­ger­ous to a free press than the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s spy­ing on The As­so­ci­ated Press and threat­en­ing re­porters with jail on is­sues of iden­ti­fy­ing sources. He goes after Fox TV as en­tan­gled in a Trump love af­fair with­out ac­knowl­edg­ing a wide­spread me­dia en­mity that he him­self il­lus­trates.

Frum also cheats sta­tis­tics by deny­ing a sig­nif­i­cant crime rise in Amer­ica’s big­gest cities in Obama’s last years in of­fice, see­ing this claim as a po­lit­i­cal trick by Trump to di­vide and con­quer. The num­bers are as un­de­ni­able as the blood in the streets, and the writer’s ex­cuse of crime be­ing a lot lower than in the 1990s is like shrug­ging your shoul­ders at the 2008 re­ces­sion be­cause the Great De­pres­sion was worse.

Beyond Frum, there is the Mus­lim ban that was not a Mus­lim ban. There were the im­mi­gra­tion raids that were no dif­fer­ent from sim­i­lar raids un­der Obama. There were Trump’s court crit­i­cisms that did not come close to Obama’s 2010 State of the Union as­sault on Supreme Court jus­tices sit­ting right in front of him.

“How To Build An Au­toc­racy” is the head­line of the Frum piece. Obama gave us some very good lessons.

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