Trump, the GOP and the autocrat’s playbook
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?
This columnist says President Donald Trump will say or do anything to advance his purposes.