Trump, the GOP and the au­to­crat’s play­book

The Mercury News Weekend - - OTHER VIEWS - By E. J. Dionne Jr. E.J. Dionne is aWash­ing­ton Post colum­nist.

WASHINGTON » Democ­ra­cies some­times col­lapse sud­denly. More typ­i­cally, they waste away.

One­ma­jor cause of in­sti­tu­tional de­cline in­volves politi­cians putting their own im­me­di­ate in­ter­ests ahead of their obli­ga­tions to demo­cratic norms. We wake up one day and dis­cover that a long se­ries of in­di­vid­ual choices has rot­ted out the con­straints on au­thor­i­tar­ian rule.

Pres­i­dent Trump plainly feels no sense of stew­ard­ship when it comes to our political sys­tem or to any ac­cepted stan­dards of truth. From the mo­ment he de­scended that es­ca­la­tor at Trump Tower in 2015, he made clear that he would say and do any­thing to ad­vance his pur­poses and to evis­cer­ate any­one who op­posed him.

It should thus not sur­prise us that in an­tic­i­pa­tion of Robert Mueller’s ac­tions this week, Trump rolled out an as­sault on the le­git­i­macy of the spe­cial coun­sel’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion and brazenly in­sisted that not he but Hil­lary Clin­ton (the holder of no pub­lic of­fice) should be the sub­ject of pros­e­cu­to­rial in­ter­est.

Trump’s Dis­tract-ORama ought to be met with de­ri­sion and con­dem­na­tion. Note that by se­cur­ing a guilty plea from for­mer Trump ad­viser Ge­orge Pa­padopou­los for ly­ing to FBI agents about his con­tacts with Rus­sians to se­cure “dirt” on Clin­ton in 2016, Mueller con­firmed the cen­tral premise of his probe. Yes, there was col­lu­sion be­tween Rus­sia and the Trump ap­pa­ra­tus aimed at de­feat­ing Clin­ton.

We don’t yet know for cer­tain how high up en­gage­ment with the Rus­sian project went. But me­dia dis­clo­sures about con­tacts made by top Trump of­fi­cials sug­gest the story won’t stop with Pa­padopou­los.

As is his way, Trump lied right out of the box af­ter Mueller’s an­nounce­ments by claim­ing that the charges brought against his for­mer cam­paign man­ager Paul Manafort en­tailed be­hav­ior that long pre­dated last year’s pres­i­den­tial con­test. In fact, the money laun­der­ing at the heart of the in­dict­ment was, ac­cord­ing to pros­e­cu­tors, on­go­ing in 2016.

Then onWed­nes­day morn­ing, Trump moved to ex­ploit the mur­der­ous New York City truck at­tack by cast­ing blame on Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles Schumer be­cause the Demo­crat had backed the Di­ver­sity Visa Lot­tery. Trump tweeted in re­sponse to the then-un­con­firmed but later ver­i­fied re­ports that the driver of the truck, Say­fullo Saipov, en­tered the U.S. from Uzbek­istan un­der the pro­gram. Schumer, by the way, sup­ported a bi­par­ti­san 2013 im­mi­gra­tion re­form bill that would have abol- ished the lot­tery.

It’s es­sen­tial to rec­og­nize that Trump is faith­fully fol­low­ing the au­to­crat’s play­book. He’s try­ing to un­der­mine a law­ful in­quiry that en­dan­gers his hold on power. He has sug­gested that his op­po­nent in the last elec­tion de­serves to be jailed. He’s in­vent­ing sto­ries about dark coverups by his en­e­mies to sow con­fu­sion about the proven facts of his own team’s skull­dug­gery. And now he is blam­ing his foes for vi­o­lence and dis­or­der.

What’s go­ing on can­not be writ­ten off as nor­mal par­ti­san­ship. The push to dis­credit and de­rail Mueller risks be­com­ing an ex­is­ten­tial threat to our demo­cratic val­ues and repub­li­can prac­tices. The in­ter­fer­ence by a for­eign ad­ver­sary in our elec­toral process is not a rou­tine event. Re­sis­tance to un­cov­er­ing what hap­pened should not be seen as part of the ev­ery­day give-and­take of pol­i­tics.

Repub­li­can pa­tri­ots have to know that what’s at stake mat­ters far more than the quick pas­sage of a tax bill. Don’t they?

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

This colum­nist says Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump will say or do any­thing to ad­vance his pur­poses.

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