Woonsocket Call

Threats to democ­racy are no laugh­ing mat­ter

- By COL­BERT I. KING Col­bert I. “Colby” King won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Com­men­tary.

Some of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s de­trac­tors re­gard him as an ob­ject of ridicule to be laughed at and dis­missed as a nar­cis­sis­tic, bom­bas­tic, un­couth show­man, to­tally lack­ing in class.

Trump may be all that. But there is noth­ing amus­ing about him.

This pres­i­dent may well be the sin­gle great­est threat to our con­sti­tu­tional form of govern­ment and the rule of law to have ever oc­cu­pied the White House. Con­sid­er­ing our trau­matic na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence with Pres­i­dent Richard M. Nixon, that is say­ing some­thing.

Trump is hell­bent on over­rid­ing long-stand­ing con­sti­tu­tional con­trols over the ar­bi­trary ex­er­cise of ex­ec­u­tive pow­ers.

Un­der­min­ing free­dom of the press is a case in point.

In the first months after Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion, I blogged that there is a “strate­gic cal­cu­la­tion” in his war on the me­dia. I in­di­cated it would be a mis­take to treat his Twit­ter at­tacks and “fake news” charges as sim­ply the ju­ve­nile be­hav­ior of a 71-year-old pres­i­dent stuck in his ado­les­cent years.

Re­gard­ing the me­dia as a dan­ger­ous ad­ver­sary, a cold and cal­cu­lat­ing Trump set out to bring it down in the pub­lic eye. “His aim is to den­i­grate the work of the me­dia so that our re­port­ing and analy­ses are sum­mar­ily dis­missed by the pub­lic, re­gard­less of the ev­i­dence,” I wrote at the time.

Brand­ing us as the “most dis­hon­est hu­man be­ings on earth” and “scum” were not “off-the-cuff in­vec­tives,” I wrote. There was a method in his mad­ness.

Trump had al­ready shown his hand, we now learn, in an in­ter­view with broad­cast jour­nal­ist Les­ley Stahl con­ducted dur­ing the last pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

Stahl, in­ter­viewed by “PBS NewsHour’s” Judy Woodruff at a jour­nal­ism award event in May, said she asked Trump in July 2016 why he was at­tack­ing the press over and over, and whether he planned to stop do­ing it. Stahl said Trump re­sponded, “You know why I do it? I do it to dis­credit you all and de­mean you all, so when you write neg­a­tive sto­ries about me, no one will believe you.”

That cal­cu­la­tion later fig­ured into Trump’s pre-in­au­gu­ra­tion at­tacks on the U.S. in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity, ques­tion­ing their mo­tives and abil­i­ties. It was no co­in­ci­dence that these at­tacks oc­curred as the in­tel­li­gence ser­vices were look­ing into Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence and in­flu­ence in our pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Brand­ing them as in­com­pe­tent was de­signed to weaken their cred­i­bil­ity and in­oc­u­late Trump from any sug­ges­tion that his cam­paign was un­der for­eign in­flu­ence.

Like­wise, Trump’s in­ces­sant de­grad­ing of the spe­cial coun­sel and the FBI has a clear strat­egy. Belit­tle. Ques­tion mo­tives. Plant the idea that Robert Mueller III’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion is a “witch hunt” fu­eled by Democrats still sting­ing from de­feat in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Trump is wag­ing war on in­sti­tu­tions of govern­ment – the Jus­tice De­part­ment, fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors, mem­bers of Congress, any and all who pose a threat to what he wants to be: Amer­ica’s un­chal­lenged ruler.

That aim is what sets Trump apart from other mod­ern-day pres­i­dents. It comes through in the way he com­ports him­self. In his view, he has no equal, there is none grander. No one in the world is more de­serv­ing of adu­la­tion and ap­proval.

We now know, if we didn’t be­fore, that Trump is a com­pul­sive liar. He is emo­tion­ally abu­sive to those around him – At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions, Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Kirst­jen Nielsen.

His tol­er­a­tion for crit­i­cism, nil; his store of em­pa­thy, empty.

In­stead of the ad­mi­ra­tion he richly de­serves, he’s be­ing vic­tim­ized by his own govern­ment – at least, he is in his own mind.

Which gets us to the threat that Trump poses.

Un­like Nixon, if Trump – or his clan or cam­paign – is con­fronted with wrong­do­ing, this pres­i­dent will not go away qui­etly.

Trump has made it clear that the law, ev­i­dence and the crim­i­nal-jus­tice sys­tem mean lit­tle to him if they con­flict with his in­ter­ests.

This is not a wish. But the prospect of Trump legally on the spot should be viewed with trep­i­da­tion. He be­lieves, I fear, that au­thor­ity over his fate rests solely with him.

The rule of law could soon be at stake. There’s noth­ing the slight­est bit funny about that.

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