Propagandist-in-Chief

Last week’s article, Weapons of Propaganda, laid out the differences between disinformation and misinformation and its negative consequences on our democratic society. This week, Donald Trump has put the ideas and words of last week’s article into action. This isn’t something new; Trump engages in propaganda on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis. However, it’s important to take note of these deceptions as they’re happening.

The Winds of Impeachment


The winds of impeachment have been picking up in the Democratic Party, specifically in the House since it’s the House that must initiate the impeachment process. Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, has been wary of starting the impeachment process. She hasn’t ruled it out, but has been reluctant to move too quickly. It’s not that she thinks Trump shouldn’t be subjected to the impeachment process, it’s the political calculus involved with an impeachment that she’s concerned about.

“If you come at the king, you best not miss,” is a quote from Omar Little, a character from David Simon’s masterpiece HBO series, The Wire. The substance of the quote is something that’s been at the forefront of Pelosi’s mind for awhile now. She’s aware that impeachment will be divisive for the country. She fears the possibility that impeachment hearings could garner public sympathy for Trump, as we’ve seen during the Bill Clinton impeachment process. This could have a negative effect on not only the 2020 presidential election, but also the 2020 congressional races.

However, the idea of Trump being viewed as a sympathetic figure by the American public has been disputed by many experts and analysts. Clinton’s Articles of Impeachment were founded on an inappropriate relationship with a White House intern. Most of the public viewed the Clinton impeachment as a political overreach. The case for Trump’s impeachment is much different both in substance and scope.

With the release of the redacted Mueller Report, which laid out nearly a dozen instances of possible obstruction of justice committed by Trump, there’s been an increase in congressional investigations in the House. The House has been trying to perform their oversight responsibilities, yet the Trump administration has been in a state of open rebellion against the legislative branch. They ignored attempts by House congressional committees to have access to pertinent persons and documents, and when they were left to resort to issuing subpoenas, the administration defied them.

All of these acts of defiance have put enormous pressure on Pelosi. She’s been lobbied by her own Democratic colleagues to initiate impeachment proceedings. In response to the lobbying efforts, on the morning of May 22, 2019, she met with the House Democratic Caucus to discuss their strategy for moving forward. It was ultimately decided they wouldn’t start impeachment hearings yet. She was able to convince her colleagues to be patient and wait for more facts to emerge from the many ongoing investigations.

After the meeting, Pelosi was asked by the press how they planned to proceed. She stuck with her stance on waiting for the investigations to churn up more facts, but made a weighty statement in three points, saying:

“We do believe that it’s important to follow the facts.”

“We believe that no one is above the law.”

“…and we believe the President of the United States is engaged in a coverup.”

The Democratic leadership from the House and Senate were scheduled to meet with the president later on that day. They’ve been engaged in back-channel discussions with Trump for the past few weeks in order to broker an infrastructure deal. The Democratic leaders said Trump implied he was open to working on the deal. He stipulated he wanted to see their infrastructure plan, so the Democrats prepared a document with a proposed strategy and budget.

When the Democratic leaders from the House and Senate arrived at the White House, it became clear they weren’t going to be discussing infrastructure. The curtains in the meeting room were drawn and there was no seat at the head of the table for the president, implying the meeting would be short and one-sided. When Trump entered the room he went off on a tirade, according to the Democrats who were present. Since he intentionally didn’t have a seat, he was in a literal position to speak down to the Democrats. The takeaway from the short meeting was Trump saying he would no longer be working with the Democrats while they were investigating him.

Meltdown in the Rose Garden


Directly after the meeting, Trump arranged for a press conference to be held in the Rose Garden. As the press waited for the president to walk out, it was clear to everyone there wasn’t going to be any announcement on an infrastructure deal. The pre-printed Mueller Report-related sign on the podium made his intentions clear: the sign, in part, read “No Collusion. No Obstruction.”

It’s obvious that the meeting with the Democratic leadership and the Rose Garden address that followed was never intended to be about infrastructure. Trump planned to go on the offensive all along (or on the defensive, depending on how you look at it). Why would there be a sign about the Mueller Report on the podium when the address was meant to be about infrastructure?

The Rose Garden address quickly turned into a tirade against all of Trump’s political opponents, both real and perceived. He went from one person and topic to the next, barely speaking a single sentence that wasn’t at least a partial lie.

Some Examples of the Disinformation Spread During the Rose Garden Address

  • “18 Angry Democrats,” as displayed on the the pre-printed podium sign. He made false claims about the Mueller team, saying they were all angry Democrats and were Hillary Clinton supporters. While it is true that a few members of the investigation had made financial contributions to the Clinton campaign, the claim that all members of the team were Democrats looking to take him down is disinformation. Robert Mueller himself is a lifelong Republican. The official who appointed Mueller as special counsel, Rod Rosenstein, another registered Republican. Moreover, the “No Obstruction” part of the sign on the podium is disinformation. Mueller uncovered nearly a dozen acts of possible obstruction of justice.
  • “I’m the most transparent president, probably in the history of the country,” Trump claimed. Trump is the least transparent president in the modern era, if not in history. He broke the decades-long tradition of presidential candidates releasing their tax returns in order to be transparent with the public, showing where their money comes from and whom they owe money to. Trump also declined to be interviewed by the Mueller team. Instead, he submitted carefully-prepared answers to Mueller’s questions, which were carefully constructed and combed through by his legal team. Trump’s Press Secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, has reached a historic low when it comes to holding press conferences. Press briefings are the main apparatus for demonstrating transparency between the White House and the public. As of today, there hasn’t been a press briefing in 45 days. There’s literally dust covering the podium in the Press Briefing Room.
  • Trump claimed, “I respect the courts. I respect Congress…” Since we’re in the middle of a constitutional crisis that’s currently being sorted out in the courts, this is another lie. He even contradicted himself in the same address when he said he would no longer be working with Congress while he’s being investigated. Most presidents, to one degree or another, have been under investigation, and it’s never stopped them from governing. In modern history, both Nixon and Clinton still worked with Congress when they were being investigated and even when Articles of Impeachment were being drawn up.
  • “I don’t speak to Russia about campaigns… it’s a hoax,” Trump insisted. This is another blatant lie. When Trump was on the campaign trail, he called on Russia during a campaign speech, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 [Hillary Clinton] emails that are missing.” Well, they were listening because on that same day, Russian operatives made their first attempt at hacking Clinton’s personal email server. Moreover, in the Mueller Report, it was uncovered that there were at least 140 contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian nationals.
  • “I don’t do coverups. You people probably know that better than anybody.” One coverup most of the country is aware of is Trump’s efforts to buy the silence of the adult film actress, Stormy Daniels, whom Trump had an affair with. When the Trump campaign received word that she intended to go public, Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, brokered a deal on behalf of Trump to pay her $130,000 to keep quiet. Cohen is currently in federal prison, in part, since he violated campaign finance law by making the hush money payments on behalf of Trump. Cohen initially told investigators he paid Daniels off with his own money, which is partly true. However, it was arranged from the start that Trump would reimburse Cohen in installments of $35,000. During Cohen’s last public testimony to the House Oversight Committee, Cohen produced copies of the $35,000 checks, signed by Trump, some of which when he was President of the United States.

Propagandist-in-Chief


Since the events of May 22, 2019, Trump has been publicly attacking Pelosi. He called her “Crazy Nancy,” but then said he didn’t want to share nicknames, since he calls Bernie Sanders, “Crazy Bernie.”

Trump tweeted out a doctored video of a segment of one of Pelosi’s addresses this week, which made Pelosi appear to sound intoxicated or unwell. Trump tweeted the video out to his millions of followers with the caption, “PELOSI STAMMERS THROUGH NEWS CONFERENCE.”

When fact checkers pulled up the original video from C-SPAN, it was obvious the video had been slowed down to make it appear as though there was something wrong with Pelosi. The video went viral, being sent out en masse amongst MAGA supporters and right-wing figures. Rudy Giuliani also tweeted out the video, but deleted it once it became apparent it was doctored. Trump, however, has not deleted his tweet.

The person who created the doctored video of Pelosi was engaging in disinformation. Trump engaged in misinformation by tweeting the video out. In this case, his intentions were nefarious either way since his intention was to discredit Pelosi. This fact was sealed when he chose not to delete it from his Twitter feed after learning the truth. Therefore, this is an act of propaganda against Pelosi. The President of the United States openly engaging in propaganda against the Speaker of the House, the second in the line of succession.

Using the word “propaganda” is not hyperbole. It’s literally a dictionary definition of the word, which Dictionary.com defines as, “information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc.”

Trump uses a particular tactic in his dissemination of propaganda, using one-sided statements like “everybody knows,” “you people probably know better than anyone,” “you all agree.” He qualifies his lies with these false confirmations of consensus. In the example of the Rose Garden address, he’s largely speaking to members of the press –they don’t have the means to respond– it’s a one-way exchange of information, yet he creates the illusion that everyone is in agreement with him.

As the investigations continue and the possibility of impeachment hearings is becoming more and more likely, Trump will become more unhinged and more brazen. It’s critical that we don’t let these abuses of power to become normalized.

This week the courts have ruled to uphold both cases in which the congressional subpoenas were contested by the Trump administration. There are more subpoenas awaiting judicial review, as well as an appeal to one of the cases already ruled upon. This is how the system is supposed to work: checks and balances between the three branches of government. However, if the Trump administration defies the court rulings, then we’ll have entered uncharted territory. This constitutional crisis will turn into a constitutional calamity. Our form of government will no longer be a democratic republic; it’ll be a banana republic ruled by a tyrant.

The Weapons of Propaganda

For as long as our species has been exchanging information, propaganda has been a tool used by the powerful to manipulate the people in order to push a particular agenda. The advent of the internet has been both a blessing and a curse to those subjected to propaganda campaigns. The Information Age spawned out of the worldwide adoption of the internet has given ideal platforms to peddlers of propaganda, but on the flip side has also given people a means to distinguish fact from fiction –people have the ability to do their own fact-checking if they’re willing to take the extra step.

Disinformation and Misinformation


At its core, propaganda is founded on the dissemination of disinformation and misinformation. In common language, disinformation and misinformation are often used interchangeably, as if they’re synonyms. While they both stem from the spread of inaccurate or misleading information, the difference between the two lies in the intent of the person or entity spreading it.

Disinformation

The basis of a propaganda campaign is founded on disinformation. Dictionary.com defines disinformation as, “deliberately misleading or biased information; manipulated narrative or facts; propaganda.”

Disinformation is intended to deceive the public in order to strengthen or weaken a person, institution, or issue. The intent is malignant and the objective is nefarious. Disinformation can be completely fictitious or a fabrication (e.g. mixing factual information with false information).

Misinformation

While disinformation and misinformation are two sides of the same coin, misinformation is different since it isn’t necessarily spread with malicious intent. Dictionary.com’s Word of the Year for 2018 was granted to the word “misinformation,” which is a testament to the times we’re living in. They define it as, “false information that is spread, regardless of whether there is intent to mislead.”

Misinformation could be something as innocent as a journalist making an honest mistake about something they reported in a story. They may have gotten a date or detail wrong, but since that information is inaccurate, it can still be considered misinformation. However, once the journalist or editor realizes the information isn’t accurate, reputable news organizations will immediately post a redaction or correction.

The act of spreading misinformation also comes to fruition on smaller scales. The average citizen may be explaining a subject to someone, but their explanation is inaccurate. The person spreading the misinformation doesn’t think it’s misinformation; they think it’s fact-based information. Their intent wasn’t to misinform, but the result of the exchange was misinformation, nonetheless. We’ve all been guilty of spreading misinformation in one way or another.

The Impact of Spreading Misinformation


There’s undoubtedly a dark side to misinformation: when a person is subjected to disinformation and they absorb it as factual information. When that person spreads the disinformation to others, they’ve unwittingly become a vehicle for disinformation. If their intent is sincere –they believe the information to be accurate– they’re spreading misinformation. However, they’re nonetheless carrying out the objective of the propagandist who peddled the disinformation for nefarious reasons.

It’s similar to the way contagious diseases are spread. A virus (i.e. disinformation) has infected a person, and then that person begins unwittingly spreading the virus to other people (i.e. misinformation). Therefore, a sneeze or a cough is akin to a tweet or a post on social media. This is how any kind of information is spread. It’s why we say a story or video has gone “viral” when it has reached a critical mass of shares or views, allowing it to quickly spread across the internet.

The Russian government waged a “sweeping and systematic” (as described in the Mueller Report) attack on our democracy during the 2016 presidential election. A part of that attack was posting fake news stories on social media platforms. They posted these stories from imposter accounts. They concealed their true identities by creating accounts that, on the surface, seemed like it was just another American sharing a news story. The profiles were carefully created to resemble the profile of an American citizen. Some of these accounts were controlled by actual Russian operatives (e.g. shills), others were autonomous (i.e. Russian bots).

Depending on the group they were infiltrating, they would modify the profile accordingly. For example, if they wanted to spread a fake story that once Hillary Clinton took office, she secretly planned to sign an executive action that would take firearms away from all Americans, the Russian propagandist’s profile would reflect the profile of the average NRA-affiliated American. If they took the story at face value, they would more than likely share the story with all of their friends or followers. So, in this case, the Russian propagandist was spreading disinformation; the unwitting American reader was then spreading misinformation.

The Russian propagandist planting a seed of disinformation in the right social media habitat could yield a massive harvest for the propagandist. Once the disinformation has been planted, it’s the unsuspecting Americans who share the information to their network of friends and followers –and so on, and so on.

In a research study commissioned by the Knight Foundation, an American non-profit organization, it was discovered that more Americans spread Russian disinformation than the Russians themselves. They found that Americans spread millions of tweets and posts containing misinformation, all of which originated from Russian disinformation campaigns.

Where We Are Now


The Russians succeeded in their disinformation campaigns. The Russian attack was insidious since it used American social media companies and American citizens to do most of the work for them. They understood the power of social media as a near-perfect vehicle to spread disinformation. Their objective was to sow the seeds of discord amongst Americans, amplifying an already polarized society. The Russians played a significant role in dividing us and therefore weakening our democracy.

The Russian’s other objective was to interfere in the political discourse in the country by using their disinformation tactics. Putin had contempt for Hillary Clinton and thought Trump would serve Russia’s interests better than Clinton. A significant portion of the disinformation spread by the Russians was to strengthen the Trump campaign while also weakening the Clinton campaign.

The term “fake news” entered the American lexicon with the rise of Donald Trump. Fake news is a real thing, however Trump re-coined the term for his own benefit. Instead of using its true meaning –news stories drenched in disinformation– he applied it to any news story that wasn’t favorable to his own self interests. In doing so, it discredited the free press in the minds of his supporters and has created confusion amongst the general population.

In calling the free press “the enemy of the people,” it has led his supporters to distrust reporting from some of the most well-established and most-respected news organizations in the country. This is dangerous because if Americans don’t have access to factual information, they’ve been robbed of the ability to make informed decisions.

Russia’s attack on our democracy during the 2016 presidential election wasn’t a singular event. Their disinformation campaigns have never stopped. They’re still engaged in spreading disinformation through social media. The Trump administration, however, has been silent on the issue, which leaves us vulnerable to continued efforts to crumble our democracy from the inside out.

The fate of our democracy, in respect to the disinformation flooding social media feeds, has essentially been left for the social media companies to figure out. Most of them have taken measures to prevent, as well as to identify and remove disinformation from their sites, but it’s not enough. The Russians, and other foreign adversaries, are simply adapting to their countermeasures. They need a central governing body to consult and assist them. There needs to be a combined public and private effort to subdue Russia’s cyber war against us.

The most unsettling facts concerning Russia’s attack on our democracy is the fact that Trump has refused to meaningfully acknowledge it’s even happened and is happening.

When Trump spoke privately with Putin during a summit in Helsinki in July 2018, Trump, responding to a question from the press on Russia meddling, said he “doesn’t see any reason” for Russia to have meddled in our election. He went on to say, “I have great confidence in my Intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”

In early May 2019, Trump had an hour-long phone conversation with Putin. When he was asked by the press if he warned Putin about interfering in future elections, he said, “We didn’t discuss that.”

Final Thoughts


Disinformation and misinformation are toxic to any democracy. We all depend on reliable information to give us the facts we need to form our own opinions and make informed decisions that affect our lives. When the information being spread is false or misleading, it inevitably leads us to make decisions that aren’t in our best interest.

It’s a fact that Putin’s Russia engaged –and is still engaged– in a widespread social media campaign to sow discord and misinform Americans. Yet, the person sworn to protect and defend us from all enemies has treated Putin with adulation, and in his mind, has turned our adversary on the world stage into his personal ally.

This raises puzzling and concerning questions. Why is Trump so fond of Putin? Why hasn’t Trump initiated a strategic plan to protect us from the ongoing attacks from Russia? What does Trump have to gain or lose by siding with Putin against the interests of his own country? What’s his motive for remaining silent and refusing to take action?

There will come a time when we have a true understanding of Trump’s motivations. Until then, we’re left to fend off the rotten fruits of Putin’s nefarious labor on our own. We must be our own guardians against the Russian government.

An American Crisis

The federal government of the United States is in the midst of a constitutional crisis. Some would have you believe the crisis was instigated by angry Democrats, seeking revenge for their loss in the 2016 presidential election. This is disinformation being perpetrated by the Trump-GOP-Fox propaganda machine. Despite what they want the country to believe, the truth is out there for anyone willing to seek it.

The Essence of the Constitution


Our system of government, as well as our highest ideals, are prescribed in the the United States Constitution. It’s the supreme law of the land; it supersedes all other laws within our country, states, and territories.

The constitution laid out a framework for governing by installing three co-equal branches of government: the legislative branch (i.e. Congress), the executive branch (i.e. the Presidency), and the judicial branch (i.e. the Supreme Court).

Article I of the constitution assigns the powers and responsibility for the legislative branch. Article II assigns the powers and responsibility for the executive branch. Article III formed the Supreme Court, which is responsible for interpreting and ruling over contestations to the constitution.

These branches are equal by law, so one may not overpower the other. The founders were wary of a single president becoming too powerful, so they ensured the Congress and Supreme Court had the authority to check and balance the Presidency.

Every government official, both elected and appointed, swear an oath before entering their respective office. The protection and defense of the constitution is the basis for the oath. The act of taking an oath gives weight to the priority and importance of the constitution.

The President’s oath is to “…preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Members of congress swear a similarly-worded oath, “… [to] support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic…”

The Road to the Constitutional Crisis


After Donald Trump took the presidential oath of office, there were many who thought his bullying and brash campaign antics would dissipate and he would –as all presidents have done before– rise to the occasion, putting aside pettiness and vindictive behavior for the good of the country. There were many who thought he would temper the furor of his base and become a leader for all Americans. As we’ve seen, this has not happened.

One of Trump’s first attacks was against the free press. He despised any news coverage that wasn’t favorable to him. He’s attacked the press consistently throughout his presidency, going as far as calling them “the enemy of the people” on numerous occasions. The press is protected under the First Amendment of the constitution. This wasn’t a constitutional crisis yet because he wasn’t actively trying to censor them. He has, however, done his best to discredit the press with the intention of manipulating the public’s trust in the greatest democratic institution outside of the federal government. The press is referred to as the “fourth estate,” as a way of symbolizing its critical role to our democracy; acting as an unofficial fourth branch.

The Russian government’s attack on our democracy is a fact. Before there was a special counsel investigation, 17 of our intelligence agencies (e.g. FBI, CIA, NSA, etc.) confirmed Russia had interfered in our election. When sources began reporting contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, the FBI initiated an investigation.

It wasn’t long before Trump fired James Comey, the Director of the FBI. Comey was the top law enforcement official investigating the Russian interference, as well as the potential that the Trump campaign had a role in it. Soon after Comey’s firing came the firing of the Acting Director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe. With the federal government in a state of crisis due to the firings of the heads of the agency tasked with investigating the president, the questioning of the rule of law had to be answered to maintain the public’s trust in the federal government.

Jeff Sessions, Trump’s original attorney general, was compelled to recuse himself from the FBI investigation since he was a member of the Trump campaign. Therefore, the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, took control of overseeing the investigation from the Department of Justice. He appointed Robert Mueller as the special counsel, tasked with taking over the FBI’s investigation.

After nearly two years, the Mueller team completed their investigation. A 448-page report was submitted to the current attorney general, Bill Barr. Two years of round-the-clock investigating by a team of some of the country’s best lawyers, investigators, and analysts was summed up in a 4-page summary in merely two days.

We would later learn that the Barr summary was a misleading document intended to obscure and minimize Mueller’s findings. Barr held the report for a month, claiming he needed time to make redactions. This gave the Trump administration time to use the Barr summary as a way of swaying public opinion. Trump boasted he had been “exonerated” and most of the country was either confused or misled to believe the investigation was a “witch hunt” as Trump has often described it.

After the redacted report was submitted to the public, it became evident that Barr’s farce was beginning to crumble, along with Trump’s claims of exoneration. In congressional committees, the public saw firsthand that Barr was not forthcoming in his testimony. He told the Congress that he didn’t know how Mueller felt about his summary. This was a lie. The New York Times and Washington Post obtained letters Mueller had written to Barr in the days following the release of the Barr summary. In those letters, Mueller did express his feelings about the memo. He wrote that the summary didn’t “…fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this Office’s works and conclusions.”

The Constitutional Crisis


With the revelations in the redacted Mueller Report, there was real concern among congressional Democrats that Trump was abusing his presidential powers. Mueller found 10 instances of possible obstruction of justice in his report.

Barr was called to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. If anyone wasn’t sure of Barr’s intent before the hearing, they were after. In his testimony, he contradicted the report’s findings. He was evasive and unforthcoming with his carefully-worded, though sometimes tongue-tied, testimony. It was clear he was supporting and defending Trump’s interests, rather than impartially serving as the country’s attorney general. Barr was scheduled to testify before a House congressional panel the following day. He refused to appear. He hasn’t appeared before Congress since.

For the past 40 years, every president has voluntarily made their tax returns public –every president until Donald Trump. Presidential candidates voluntarily release their tax returns as an act of good faith, showing the public exactly where their money is coming from and to whom they may be indebted to. It’s meant to expose, and therefore prevent, any conflicts of interest.

Trump has been using the excuse for years now that he can’t release his tax returns because he’s under audit. Regardless of whether or not that’s true, which it likely isn’t, federal law states that the Congress can obtain the tax returns of any American –including the president. So, in the middle of the Barr controversy, when a House committee –exercising their constitutional duty of oversight over the executive branch– requested Trump’s tax returns from the Department of the Treasury. Steve Mncuchin, Trump’s Treasury secretary, missed the deadline for turning over the tax returns and has since said he will refuse to turn them over, saying it “lacks any legitimate legislative purposes.” This excuse has no merit since it’s the purpose of the Oversight Committee to perform oversight.

The House Oversight Committee also sent out subpoenas to Capital One and Deutsche Bank for Trump’s financial records. This was done in order to get more information on Trump’s business ties, particularly with foreign entities, which is again to ensure Trump isn’t compromised due to conflicts of interest. Since Trump can’t order a corporation to refuse the subpoenas, he resorted to suing Elijah Cummings, the Chairman of the Oversight Committee. This will tie the matter up in the courts –a tactic Trump is infamous for.

The House Judiciary Committee issued a subpoena to testify to Don McGahn, Trump’s former White House Counsel. McGahn was a key witness to many of the obstruction of justice instances in the Mueller Report. On May 2, 2019, Trump declared he wouldn’t allow McGahn to testify before the committee.

The Judiciary Committees also issued subpoenas to obtain the full, unredacted Mueller Report, along with all of the report’s underlying evidence, but that subpoena has also been ignored by Barr. Trump has claimed executive privilege over the entire Mueller Report and all of its underlying evidence. The power of executive privilege is used by presidents to keep sensitive information from being made public so the government can function without being impaired. This is a nonsensical argument since the information has already been uncovered and made its way into the report. It’s akin to trying to put the proverbial toothpaste back in the tube.

In response to Barr’s refusal to appear before the House Judiciary Committee and his disregard for congressional subpoenas, on May 8, 2019, the committee voted to hold Barr in contempt of Congress. The contempt charge will soon be brought to the floor for the entire House to vote on.

On that same day, May 8th, the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee issued a subpoena to Donald Trump, Jr. in reference to the now infamous Trump Tower meeting he had with Russians during the campaign. Donald Trump, Jr. has since remarked that he may ignore the subpoena or exercise his Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate himself.

After the vote to hold Barr in contempt of Congress, the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee declared, “We are now in a constitutional crisis.”

Why a Constitutional Crisis is Serious


If the Congress is consistently and blatantly being defied by the Trump administration, then the sanctity of the constitution is at risk –our whole system of government is at risk. If the power of the Congress is being nullified by the Trump administration, and it’s permitted to stand, we’re no longer a democratic republic. Chairman Nadler touched on this after the contempt vote, “Now is the time of testing whether we can keep a republic, or whether this republic is destined to change into a different, more tyrannical form of government.”

This should be a grave concern to all Americans, regardless of political ideology. The Senators and Representatives in Congress are our elected officials. They’re there to represent the People. Therefore, an attack on the Congress is an attack on the People. If the Congress is reduced to a non-binding body and is losing power, the Trump administration is absorbing those powers.

We cannot permit these tyrannical acts to go unchecked. Democracies aren’t made of steel; they’re made of glass. All it takes is a few cracks until the whole system of government comes shattering down. A millennia ago, Plato warned that democracies are a prelude to tyranny. Our founders understood this, and designed the constitution accordingly, but if the constitution isn’t protected, defended, and ultimately enforced, Plato’s warning will become a realized prophecy.

The founders and revolutionaries used both the pen and the sword to fight for their independence, breaking the monarchical bonds of the British Empire. Blood has been shed by millions of Americans fighting for values like freedom and justice. If our elected representatives have little or no power, then our freedom is slipping away. If our system of justice is being used to protect and defend the president, there’s no longer justice for all. If this constitutional crisis becomes a constitutional calamity, we’ll be living in a very different country, as will the untold millions who come after us.

The Rise of Barr and the Fall of Justice

In December 2018, President Donald Trump nominated William Barr to be the next attorney general. Trump’s original attorney general, Jeff Sessions, was cast out of Trump’s good graces after Sessions recused himself from all matters related to the investigation into the 2016 presidential election.

Sessions was a member of Trump’s campaign and therefore posed a conflict of interest, so he did the ethical thing and removed himself from overseeing any proceedings in the matter.

The Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was then given the task of overseeing the investigation. Rosenstein was a career fixture in the Department of Justice, serving under three presidential administrations: George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump. When Rosenstein was overseeing the investigation, it was under the auspices of the Department of Justice and the FBI.

On May 3, 2017, Trump fired James Comey, the Director of the FBI. This threw most of the country into a state of panic: the President of the United States firing the head of the agency tasked with investigating him and his campaign.

As a country, we haven’t seen such a brazen act by a president since the Saturday Night Massacre on the evening of October 20, 1973. On that infamous night, President Richard Nixon, who was under investigation due to the Watergate burglary and subsequent cover-up, told his attorney general to fire the special prosecutor in charge of the investigation. The attorney general refused and tendered his resignation. Nixon then told his deputy attorney general. He also refused and resigned. Nixon finally approached the third highest-ranking official in the Department of Justice. He complied and the special prosecutor was fired.

After Trump fired Comey, the federal government was in a state of turmoil: the president had fired the man who was in charge of investigating him and his campaign. The parallels between the Saturday Night Massacre and the firing of James Comey were on the minds of the people who lived through the event and students of history.

On May 17, 2017, in an effort to restore confidence in the federal government –specifically maintaining the integrity of the rule of law– Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller to the position of a special counsel . Rosenstein stated he “…determined that it is in the public interest for me to exercise my authority and appoint a special counsel to assume responsibility for this matter.”

Mueller was regarded as a legendary figure in Washington. He served as Director of the FBI for 12 years –the term limit for FBI directors is 10 years, but he was so well regarded that Obama extended his tenure for an additional 2 years. Mueller, though a registered Republican, was renowned for his independence, thoroughness, and integrity from Democrats and Republicans alike.

Trump was well aware of Mueller’s reputation. As we later learned from Mueller’s investigation, Jeff Sessions, who was called to testify before the Mueller team, described Trump’s initial reaction when he learned Rosenstein had appointed Mueller. After Sessions gave Trump the news, he “slumped back in his chair” and said, “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m fucked.”

In his moment of despair, Trump didn’t know it at the time, but there was someone scheming outside of his administration, recognizing an opportunity: William Barr. On June 8, 2018, Barr penned an unsolicited 19-page memo to the Department of Justice. In the memo, Barr argued that Trump acted within his power to fire Comey. He criticized the premise for appointing Mueller and the investigation itself. He said Trump shouldn’t be subjected to testify about possible obstruction of justice offenses before the Mueller team.

Whenever Trump learned of the memo, it must have been music to his ears. Here was Barr, a former attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, writing what any reasonably-minded person would view as a 19-page cover letter for a job application. And lo and behold, out of the hundreds of eligible candidates for the position of attorney general, Trump just so happened to nominate Barr.

During his confirmation hearings, the memo was called into question. There were many Senators who believed it predisposed him to a conflict of interest in regards to how he would handle the special investigation. Nonetheless, Barr was confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate. On February 19, 2019, Barr was sworn into office as the Attorney General of the Department of Justice.

As the new attorney general, Barr essentially became Mueller’s boss. Mueller was appointed as a special counsel, operating under the authority of the attorney general. There’s a different set of dynamics for a special counsel than for an independent investigator. When President Bill Clinton was being investigated for the Whitewater controversy, it was led by Ken Starr who was an independent investigator. Starr, as the title suggests, was free to investigate on his own terms, independently.

Mueller completed his nearly two-year long investigation and submitted his report to Barr on March 22, 2019. The Mueller Report is 448 pages long, not including all the relevant case files and underlying evidence. However, after only two days, Barr released a 4-page summary to the public, which gave Barr’s “principle conclusions” of the report.

Barr essentially wrote that Mueller determined there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. He also wrote that Mueller was unable to find sufficient evidence of Trump obstructing justice. In the summary, Barr didn’t quote a single full-sentence from the report. He quoted only a few sentence fragments, which made some analysts suspicious.

The Barr summary set off a media firestorm. The most highly anticipated report –2 years in the making– had been completed, but was not yet released to the public. The only thing the press and the public had to base their initial impressions on was Barr’s summary.

Since the only insight into the Mueller Report was the Barr summary, it set a narrative of exoneration that spread across the country. The Washington Post’s headline read, “Mueller finds no conspiracy.” Similarly, The New York Times’s headline read, “MUELLER FINDS NO TRUMP-RUSSIA CONSPIRACY.” Trump told reporters, “It was a complete and total exoneration.” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump’s press secretary, tweeted, “A great day for America and for President [Trump]. After two years of wild anti-Trump hysteria, the President and his millions of supporters have been completely vindicated.”

On April 4, 2019, The Washington Post reported that members of Mueller’s team expressed frustration over Barr’s summary, which is significant because Mueller and his team are known for being tight-lipped. There was not a single leak from the Mueller team during the investigation. A team member said,  “There was immediate displeasure from the team when they saw how the attorney general had characterized their work instead.”

On April 9, 2019, Barr testified before a congressional committee in the House. During the proceedings, Barr was asked by Representative Charlie Crist if he knew why Mueller’s team had expressed frustration with his summary. “No, I don’t,” Barr replied.

On April 10, 2019, Barr testified before the congressional committee in the Senate. Senator Chris Van Holden asked Barr if Mueller supported his conclusion that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to conclude that Trump had obstructed justice. “I don’t know whether Bob Mueller supported my conclusion,” Barr claimed.

The only people who would have access to the Mueller Report was the Attorney General’s office. Barr would take more than a month to release the report to the public. He said he needed time to make redactions, which at the time implied Mueller had not redacted his report for a public release.

After more than a month of having the narrative of the Barr summary seeping into the consciousness of the public, Barr set a date for the release of the redacted Mueller Report: Thursday, April 18, 2019.

The timing is significant because it was released on a Thursday, which was a strategic release in terms of muffling news coverage, being at the tail end of the work week, especially considering the report is 448 pages. It takes times to read and process that many pages, therefore revelations, scope, and context weren’t going to come out immediately. On April 18th Congress wasn’t in session, Passover was taking place, and the following day was Good Friday.

The public relations strategy for the report’s release isn’t limited to just timing. On the eve of the report’s release, the Department of Justice announced Barr would be holding a press conference on the morning of April 18th. The press conference was held before the report was even released, giving Barr another opportunity to rehash and reinforce the narrative being sold to the public.

A few hours after the press conference, the redacted Mueller Report was released to the public. In the ensuing hours, days, and weeks —as reporters, analysts, lawyers, and the general public had read the report— it became evident that Barr’s summary was at the very least misleading, and at worst a concerted cover-up to minimize the political fallout from the report’s findings.

On May 1, 2019, The Washington Post and The New York Times both reported that they had obtained copies of letters Mueller had sent to Barr in the days following the release of Barr’s summary. Mueller wrote the first letter to Barr on March 25, 2019, expressing concern that Barr’s letter had insufficiently portrayed the team’s conclusions. Mueller also attached a copy of the executive summaries he and his team had written, which summarized the report. This indicates that Barr didn’t need to write a summary; Mueller already wrote one.

The second letter was written just two days later on March 27, 2019. Mueller was much more direct in his second letter, saying the Barr summary “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this Office’s work and conclusions. There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation.” Mueller also added, “[The Barr summary] threatens to undermine a central purpose for which the department appointed the special counsel: to assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigations.”

Senator Van Holden, after learning of the existence of Mueller’s letters, has said that Barr’s testimony, claiming that he didn’t know what Mueller thought of the conclusions in his summary is “the most recent example of the attorney general acting as chief propagandist for the Trump administration instead of answering questions in a straightforward and objective manner. You now have a pattern of misleading conduct from the attorney general.”

With the revelation of the Mueller letters now surfacing, we have a much better understanding of what exactly was happening from the time Barr received the report from Mueller. Barr didn’t have to write a summary in the first place; Mueller and his team already prepared executive summaries. There was no need to wait for more than a month to release the report, which Barr claimed needed to be redacted. Mueller and his team had already made the necessary redactions. Moreover, Barr misled Congress and the American people when he claimed he wasn’t aware of Mueller’s opinion of his summary. Mueller wrote not one but two letters expressing his concern that the report’s findings were being mischaracterized.

Barr testified before the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee on May 1, 2019, but he was brazenly evasive and unforthcoming. He used delay tactics with some Senators, trying to run out their allotted time with answers lacking substance.

He was scheduled to testify before the House Judiciary Committee the following day, but informed the committee the night before that he refused to appear on their terms. Barr also chose to ignore a deadline set by the committee to provide an unredacted version of the report, as well as provide the underlying body of evidence gathered by the Mueller team.

Barr was not serving the interests of the American people; he was serving the interests of Trump. Instead of acting as the nation’s chief law enforcement official –upholding the rule of law– he’s acting as Trump’s defense attorney, manipulating the law.

We’re currently in the midst of a constitutional crisis. With Barr refusing to comply with congressional subpoenas, refusing to appear before committees, and snubbing deadlines, the attorney general is dismissing the legislative branch of the government. He’s not only broken his oath to protect and defend the constitution, he’s waged an all-out assault against Article I of the constitution.

Trump has instructed his White House officials to ignore subpoenas from the House. The Treasury Department has refused to turn over his tax returns. He’s suing Capital One and Deutsche Bank to prevent them from turning over his financial records to the congressional committees who subpoenaed them.

It’s easy to let the constant stream of news generated by this administration to desensitize and, as a result, normalize the daily attacks on our democracy, but it’s critical that the People don’t become jaded and complacent. With the legislative branch under attack, we’re just a step away from authoritarian rule. The founder’s warned us about the fragility of democracies. If we want to continue to live under a representative democracy, we cannot let the powers vested in our representatives to become null and void.

“Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”

John Adams

Trump and Putin: The Greatest Mystery of Our Time

President Donald J. Trump attacks anyone who opposes him or holds him to account.1 Trump’s become infamous for his Twitter tirades against his opponents. If you’re a public figure, and you’re not openly supporting or praising him, his behavior exemplifies that he considers you his enemy.

Trump’s Attacks Against Americans and American Allies


Trump has attacked news organizations, individual journalists, television programs, American companies, state governors, mayors, Gold Star military families, actors and actresses, comedians, athletes, professional sport leagues, among many others.

He’s attacked our own democratic institutions. He’s attacked the Congress, the FBI, a handful of government intelligence agencies, federal courts, individual judges, whole states, U.S. territories, among many other government bodies.

These attacks aren’t limited to unfavorable news coverage, citizens, or Democrats speaking out against his conduct; he’s also attacked members of his own administration. When Jeff Sessions was Attorney General and recused himself from having any involvement in Russia-related investigations, he went on a long campaign of discrediting him. When Steve Bannon, a former senior advisor to Trump, was pushed out of the administration, he created a nickname for him: “Sloppy Steve.”

Putin’s Attack on America


With the sheer scope of his domestic and foreign attacks, you’d think there’s no one who could escape Trump’s raft. However, there’s been one prominent and astonishing exception: Vladimir Putin, the Russian president. Putin uses the title of “president” as a facade –he’s a dictator. Putin has a well-documented history of murdering political opponents, journalists, and even his own citizens.

Russia has been an adversary of the United States since the end of World War II. We were involved in a Cold War with the former Soviet Union for nearly half a century. The Cold War wasn’t always necessarily cold. The U.S. engaged in proxy wars with the Soviet Union (e.g. Korean War, Vietnam War, etc.). In 1962, when the Soviet Union was caught deploying nuclear missiles in Cuba, the world was on the brink of nuclear war.

When the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991, there was a brief period of peace between the two powers. This all changed when Vladimir Putin became president in 2000. Since then, Russia’s become an oligarchy with Putin serving as its absolute ruler. In his eyes, the Cold War never ended, and as a result, has complete and utter disdain for the United States. His true intention is to bring Russia back to its Soviet “glory” days.

In recent history, Putin launched a “sweeping and systematic” attack on the lifeblood of our democracy –the electoral process– during the 2016 presidential election. Russia’s interference isn’t the opinion of a few intelligence analysts, it’s a well-established fact. The American people first received confirmation of Russia’s interference when every American intelligence agency (e.g. FBI, CIA, NSA, etc.) were in agreement that the attack had taken place. The recent release of the Mueller Report (Volume I) corroborated the fact that Putin’s massive cyber-warfare offensive happened.

We weren’t attacked with troops on the ground and traditional weapons of war. Putin aimed to divide and conquer with social engineering schemes and technology. Instead of firing a missle, Russia planted poisonous seeds within our society to sow discord, which ultimately led to social strife and division.

The Greatest Mystery of Our Time


We’ve seen Donald Trump’s willingness to attack his real or perceived opponents. His attacks against his opponents are graceless, unhinged, and ruthless. He’s had no trouble calling his own people “treasonous,” discrediting American institutions, and calling the free press the “enemy of the people.”

When you look at the history of American relations with Russia, and specifically Putin’s attack against the American people, any sensible person understands that Putin is our greatest adversary. And yet, Trump hasn’t made a single negative comment about Putin. In fact, to the contrary, Trump has not only made favorable statements and tweets about Putin, he’s literally sided with Putin on Russian interference in our election. He’s taken the word of a brutal dictator over our entire national security apparatus.

This leads any reasonably-minded person to ask reasonable and serious questions: If Putin is our greatest adversary, why isn’t he viewed so by Trump? Why would the President of the United States take the role as Putin’s defender? How could a president, who attacks his own citizens and institutions, care less about the attack waged against the country he swore to protect and defend?

With all of these unknowns, there’s one thing that’s certain: when the truth is uncovered, it will not be benign.

Reference:

  1. The 567 People, Places and Things Donald Trump Has Insulted on Twitter: A Complete List – The New York Times

The Citizen’s Guide to Impeachment

Impeachment has been in the air, to one degree or another, since Donald J. Trump took office. Much of it has come from his political opponents and ordinary citizens, disapproving of his conduct while serving as President of the United States.

However, since the public release of the Mueller Report on April 18, 2019, talk of impeachment has reached a fevered pitch, and for good reason.

There’s strong and objective arguments to be made for impeachment. However, this particular article will delve into the history, process, and implications of impeachment.

Constitutional History


In 1787, the founders debated over the design of the federal government at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. They formed a federal government comprised of three co-equal branches: the legislative (Congress), the executive (Presidency), and the judicial (Supreme Court).

The founders were fearful of the ramifications of having a corrupt, immoral figure clothed with the immense power of the presidency. In fact, they were so concerned with the potential of a tyrannical leader, they discussed the idea of impeachment before they even formed the constitutional basis for the presidency (Article II of the U.S. Constitution).

The founders agreed upon a set of criteria for what would would constitute an impeachable offense. This is described in Article II (i.e. executive branch), Section IV of the constitution:

“The President, Vice President, and all Civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

The language used by the founders is meant to be ambiguous to a degree, ensuring future generations would have a constitutional foundation to build upon to suit the needs of the times.

Impeachment Process: The House


Congress has a constitutional responsibility to provide oversight over the presidency –it’s part of the “checks and balances” every American child learns about in school. The United States Constitution was designed so each branch would have the power to check and balance the other branches.

The impeachment process is initiated in the House of Representatives. If there’s suspicion or evidence that the president may have committed an impeachable offence(s) –as described in the constitution– there are two ways the House can initiate impeachment proceedings: (1) an individual House member could formally issue a resolution for impeachment, or (2) the “House could initiate proceedings by passing a resolution authorizing impeachment.1” The latter is more likely to occur than the former.

In modern history, the Judiciary Committee has been the congressional committee authorized to initiate impeachment proceedings. If the committee decides the charges against the president are worthy, the committee advises the House majority leader (i.e. the Speaker of the House). It’s then up to the House majority leader to bring the articles of impeachment to the House floor for a vote. A majority vote is required to pass the articles of impeachment.2 If more than 50% of House members vote in favor of impeachment, then the proceedings move up to the Senate.

Impeachment Process: The Senate


Once the House passes the articles of impeachment, the Senate will subsequently conduct a trial. The trial has all the trappings of a traditional legal trial: there’s a team of prosecutors and a team of defense attorneys, with each side using cross-examination and the calling of witnesses, among other legal methods.

The House appoints members who act as prosecutors. These members are traditionally from the House Judiciary Committee. The president has the right to appoint his own attorneys to mount a defense. The impeachment proceedings are presided over by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.3 And it’s the members of the Senate who act as the jury.

When the trial has concluded, the Senate will typically convene in private –just as a traditional jury does. In order to convict the president, a two-thirds “supermajority” is required. Since the Senate is comprised of 100 Senators, this means 67 Senators would have to vote to convict. If the supermajority is reached, the president is automatically removed from office.

Conclusions


The process of impeaching a president is essentially a two-step process. The House votes to pass articles of impeachment, which is akin to an indictment. The Senate then holds a trial with appointed House members acting as the prosecution and the president’s personally-appointed lawyers acting as the defense. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is the presiding judge, and the Senators are the jury.

It’s possible for a president to be impeached, but not convicted. In fact, the two former presidents –Andrew Johnson (1868) and Bill Clinton (1998)– to have articles of impeachment passed against them were not convicted by the Senate and therefore remained in power. President Richard Nixon evaded the impeachment process by resigning in 1974.

While the impeachment process requires grounds for treason, bribery, high crimes (i.e. felonies), and/or misdemeanors, it’s a political process and not a criminal process. This means even if a president is convicted in the Senate, they will not be criminally charged and sentenced. The ultimate fate of a convicted president is removal from office. There is, however, still the possibility of criminal charges being filed against a president once the the president returns to being an ordinary citizen.


References

  1. History of Impeachment – The Official House of Representatives Website
  2. How the Impeachment Process Works – The New York Times
  3. Impeaching a President – The Law Dictionary (thelawdictionary.org)   

Correction: The original version of this article had an incorrect release date for the Mueller Report (April 14, 2019). The report was released to the public on April 18, 2019.

Trump: A President of His People, by His People, for His People

The United States is the government “of the people, by the people, for the people,” and therefore the President of the United States is obligated to be president to all the people.

All presidents have been members of political parties: Democrats and Republicans form our modern two-party system. When presidential candidates are on the campaign trail, they will often go on the offensive against their opponent and their opponent’s political views. There’s nothing nefarious about this; they’re rallying their base to their cause and trying to gain the support of those still undecided.

However, once Election Day ends and a new president is chosen, it’s been a long-standing American tradition for the president-elect to tone down the partisan rhetoric and rise to their position not as president of their political party –but to cast aside the polarization of political parties– and ascend as the President of the United States, representing the welfare and interests of all the people.

THE RISE OF PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP


With the 2016 election of Donald Trump, the president-to-all tradition has become a thing of the past. When his opponent for the presidency, Hillary Clinton, conceded in the early morning hours of November 9th, 2016, President-elect Trump gave his victory speech.

Despite waging one of the most callous presidential campaigns in American history, his victory speech indicated he would rise above the callousness and carry on the president-for-all tradition:

“Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division; have to get together. To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people. It’s time. I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans, and this is so important to me.”

BREAKING THE PLEDGE


It didn’t take very long for President Trump to break his pledge. In fact, the pledge was broken before he was even inaugurated. In the month after the election, President-elect Trump gave nearly a dozen post-election victory rallies. All of these victory rallies were held in states that casted their electoral votes to Trump.

On January 20, 2017, the day of Trump’s inauguration, he already filed the paperwork for his 2020 reelection, earlier than any president in American history. And, as we have learned, this isn’t a matter of Trump being clerically expeditious. Instead, he was paving the way to perpetually conduct political rallies for his supporters.   

His first post-election campaign rally was held on February 18, 2017 in Melbourne, FL –a re-election rally being held less than a month after being sworn into office. Trump held rallies at least once a month for the remainder of 2017, and with increasing frequency, continues to hold them.

A PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED BASE OF AMERICA


President Trump’s post-election rallies were no different than his pre-election rallies. The rallies were used, at least in part, to water the seeds of discord that he had planted in his pre-election rallies. They were used as a vehicle to keep his base engaged and enraged, using polarizing rhetoric against his perceived enemies. He used the platform to both mock and discredit his perceived enemies. This, by design, made Trump’s enemies his supporters’ enemies, which only served to make his supporters more fervent. He is their dark shepherd and they are his flock.

In a recent news analysis, Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for The New York Times, wrote an article asserting President Trump has done away with the president-for-all tradition, “Mr. Trump does not bother with the pretense. He is speaking to his people, not the people. He has become, or so it often seems, the president of the United Base of America.”

As a result of unfavorable reporting, one of the first American institutions attacked by Trump was the free press. The press hasn’t often been viewed favorably by former presidents, but their frustrations were usually controlled and relatively based on reason (e.g. in times of war, a president wouldn’t want the press hurting the war effort with unfavorable reports).

With Trump, he openly expresses his disdain toward the press, going so far as to call them “the enemy of the people,” which is incredibly dangerous rhetoric for a president to be using. The free press is protected by the First Amendment. Their purpose is to inform the public, so the public is capable of making informed decisions. Therefore, Trump’s rhetoric undermines the lifeblood of democracy: reliable information.

Unfortunately, “the enemy of the people” language wasn’t a one-time occurrence. He’s made the accusation dozens of times: at rallies, in interviews, on Twitter, etc. As recently as February 20, 2019, Trump tweeted, “The New York Times reporting is false. They are a true ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!”

Trump has also used inflammatory rhetoric against Democrats. He’s mocked Democratic members of congress, making up nicknames for Democrats he’s targeting at the moment. The nicknames aren’t new for Trump. He’s been doing it since he started his 2016 presidential bid. He’s had nicknames for his GOP primary opponents, and he’s even referred to members of his own administration with these juvenile nicknames.

The extent of the president’s common decency is virtually non-existent. Having poor decency is one thing, but making serious accusations against Democrats is something else entirely. When he felt Democrats weren’t clapping enough during his 2018 State of the Union address, some days later he told his supporters at a rally:

“They were like death. And un-American. Somebody said ‘treasonous.’ I mean, yeah, I guess, why not? Can we call that treason? Why not?”

For a president to use the word “treason” in reference to Democrats not applauding him is deeply troubling for a democratic society. These are senators and representatives who were put into power by the citizens of their respective states and districts in the United States –the country Trump was elected to lead. So it’s not only an attack on the Democratic members of congress themselves, it’s also, in effect, an attack on the citizens who elected them.

CONCLUSIONS


As Peter Baker wrote in his recent analysis on Trump, “He is speaking to his people, not the people.” How should the 71,791,044 Americans –53.3% of those who casted a presidential ballot in 2016– feel about the fact we have a president who is openly partial to a portion of Americans and not all Americans? We should be justifiably concerned.

It’s not as if his supporters make up a majority of the country. He received 46.7% of the popular vote, which means most Americans did not vote for him. Since becoming president, polling data has been even more unfavorable. Based on Gallup polling, the average job approval rating for Trump is 40% (based on his 820 days in office).

Trump and his followers have a symbiotic relationship: Trump receives power and adulation; his followers receive their political showman at rallies and on Twitter, and a perceived ally in the White House. The problem is the rest of the country –the majority of the country– has no ally in the White House. You only need to look as far as Trump’s Twitter account to understand that if you’re not siding with him or praising him, you’re against him.

America’s always had to deal with the consequences of elections, but these consequences have virtually always been focused on policy positions. With the rise of Trump, we’ve had to deal with a set of much different and darker consequences: a threat to our democratic institutions and the normalization of rhetoric and behavior that was once unbecoming of a president.

The president’s inflammatory rhetoric is used to create division within our country. He doesn’t aim to mend the discord; he aims to sow more seeds of it amongst his supporters to reap the political benefits gained from a group of people who’ve been misled and disinformed.

Our country has experienced times of national crisis before. With the election of Abraham Lincoln, southern states began seceding from the Union, which inevitably led to the Civil War. Lincoln’s fight was founded on domestic policy and morality. While it’s unlikely we’re facing an impending civil war, we can still learn from what leadership looks like from a man who was president to all in a time of great civil strife–even reaching out to the very people who pledged their allegiance to a rebel force.

And so, it’s fitting to close on the words of Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address:

“I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Update: After writing this article, Donald Trump made another “enemy of the people” statement against the free press: “The Washington Post and New York Times are, in my opinion, two of the most dishonest media outlets around. Truly, the Enemy of the People!”