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Trump’s Exclusion and Demonization of Democrats Pushes U.S. to One-Party Authoritarianism, Scholars Say

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Donald Trump speaks to a crowd of supporters in Louisville, KY, in March of 2016; image courtesy of DONALD TRUMP SPEECHES AND PRESS CONFERENCES YouTube Channel

WASHINGTON, June 28, 2018 – The combination of President Trump’s increasingly frequent exclusion of Democrats from decision-making, and his tendency to nominate judges who support Republican party priorities, could portend a slide toward a one-party state found in most autocracies, said two of the country’s most two prominent political scholars.

Over the past 18 months, Trump has grown increasingly comfortable excluding Democratic legislators and their constituents from White House events, has rarely visited states which he did not win in 2016, and has largely limited his public appearances to ones where he knows he will be surrounded by supporters.

Indeed, at his campaign-style rallies, his campaign’s private security can remove any person who offers the first hint of protest.

In an interview with BeltwayBreakfast, American Enterprise Institute scholar Norman J. Ornstein said Trump’s exclusion of Democrats from his political calculations marks a troubling departure from the way presidents of both parties have governed since the dawn of the republic.

A different kind of presidency tailored to one political party: Republicans

“Clearly this is a different kind of presidency,” said Ornstein, who, along with the Brookings Institution’s Thomas Mann, has also authored a definitive trio of books chronicling the partisan division that has led to Trump’s rise — “The Broken Branch,” “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks” and “One Nation Under Trump.”

“Every other president that I’ve known, including some who were very, very partisan, was at least more broadly portraying and seeing themselves as presidents of everybody, including those who opposed them.”

Ornstein explained that even the most partisan of chief executives — including Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush —  “recognized that at least when it comes to significant policy proposals, you’re better off building a consensus.”

But Trump has been enabled by Congressional leaders like Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, Ornstein said, both of whom have kept Democrats — and even some moderate Republicans — from having any input into most important legislative packages.

Even George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan were willing to work with Democrats

By contrast, George W. Bush worked with Democrats on No Child Left Behind, as did Reagan on most tax and budget packages.

Under Trump, Ornstein explained that the trend has been towards a de facto one-party legislature where the opposition has no impact.

“This is a different kind of behavior. Combined with the way Ryan and McConnell have been acting, is a very worrisome thing,” he said, noting that Trump’s constant attacks on Democrats’ legitimacy are “not a healthy thing” when it comes to the health of a functioning democracy.

‘The most excessively partisan president we’ve seen in modern American history’

A presidential scholar who predicted Trump’s electoral upset in 2016 warned that Trump’s exclusion of Democrats could herald a slide towards authoritarian, one-party rule.

That scholar, American University’s Allan J. Lichtman, said in a separate interview with BeltwayBreakfast that Trump “probably the most excessively partisan president we’ve seen in modern American history.”

Not only does Trump exclude Democrats, Lichtman said, but he demonizes them, “just like he demonizes anyone who he thinks is in opposition to him or who he thinks he can demonize to fire up his base.”

That tendency to demonize, Lichtman explained, “is just one indication of the authoritarian streak within Donald Trump,” who he said has made his intentions and desires quite clear.

“I think Donald Trump would love to not deal with a contentious free press, a bulky congress, and a judiciary who is not willing to go along with him,” he said. “Trump would very much prefer to be an authoritarian, and it even comes out directly sometimes.”

Trump admires brutal dictators, not democratically-elected leaders

Lichtman said that Trump has made clear that the world leaders he admires are the brutal dictators, not the democratically-elected leaders who run most of America’s closest allies.

There’s “no question,” he said, that Trump’s constant attacks on the legitimacy of Democrats in Congress reveal a desire for a legislative branch that is not a meaningful check on his power.

“In a dictatorship, you don’t have a robust, competitive two-party system. What dictatorships do is what Donald Trump is trying to do but has not been able to do — snuff out the free press, override checks and balances, create scapegoats within the country, and demonize and exclude the opposition. No dictator wants an opposition party,” he said.

While safe gerrymandered district and the general climate of fear Trump inspires among Republicans can explain some of GOP leaders’ failure to stand up to him, the rest, Lichtman said, comes from Republicans’ desire to use the courts to override the will of the voters.

Republicans in Congress remain loyal, he said, because “they’ve also seen Donald Trump appointing judges and Supreme Court justices who will help keep Republicans in power.”

Putting a second Supreme Court justice on the court stacks the body politic for Trump

Trump will see the opportunity to put a second justice on the highest court in the land as nothing but an opportunity to stack the deck in his favor, Lichtman predicted.

“I think the president is likely to put someone on the court who will prove of his own view of presidential power. Trump understands everything in partisan terms or in Trump terms, has shown no respect for American institutions and has shown no respect for the constitution,” Lichtman said.

“He is, and has been for fifty plus years, concerned only with himself and what’s to his advantage.”

Lichtman explained that as Trump’s Republican party has become more and more about social issues, its conservative principles have been allowed to fall by the wayside in favor of the “old-fashioned nationalistic, xenophobic, nationalism…that gave us the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War.”

In a party that is constantly “talking about immigrants ‘infesting’ the country and the killing of babies, there’s not a lot of room for rational discussion and compromise,” he said. “Under Donald Trump, traditional conservative principles have been destroyed. Donald Trump is not a conservative. Donald Trump is a reactionary, he wants to return us to the era of walls around the country” to keep out the so-called “undesirable” immigrants and in the form of tariff barriers.

Is there any grounds for hope over the state of politics in the country? Yes, in impeachment.

But there may be hope yet for those in despair over the state of the country. Lichtman, who has correctly predicted presidential elections since the Reagan years, has also predicted that Trump will be impeached.

Despite everything, it’s a prediction Lichtman says he “absolutely stands by.”

He said:“42 percent of the American people are already advocating the impeachment of Donald Trump, that’s higher than his approval rating in the same poll, something like a dozen points higher than the call for impeachment of Bill Clinton, and about equal to calls for the impeachment of Richard Nixon.” Lichtman also noted that those numbers come from polls taken long before any report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

“My prediction really depends — and I’m pretty confident about this — in some really devastating findings from the special counsel. I don’t think Robert Mueller has been wasting his time for 13 months, there will be some blockbusters that even Republicans won’t be able to ignore.”

 

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Andrew Feinberg covers the White House, Capitol Hill, and anywhere else news happens for BeltwayBreakfast.com and BroadbandBreakfast.com. He has reported on policy and politics in the nation's capital since 2007, and his writing has appeared in publications like The Hill, Politico, Communications Daily, Silicon Angle, and Washington Business Journal. He has also appeared on both daytime and prime radio and television news programs on NPR, Sirius-XM, CNN, MSNBC, ABC (Australia), Al Jazeera, NBC Digital, Voice of America, TV Rain (Russia) and CBS News. Andrew wishes he could say he lives in Washington, DC with his dog, but unfortunately, he lives in a no-dogs building in suburban Maryland.

White House

Despite Efforts To Calm Americans’ Fears, Trump’s Coronavirus Approval Drops

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Vice President Mike Pence greets sailors on the hospital ship USNS Comfort

President Donald Trump’s response to the novel coronavirus outbreak in the United States is leaving Americans less than impressed.

A Morning Consult poll released Tuesday shows less than half of voters surveyed — 49 percent — approve of the president’s approach to dealing with the threat posed by the virus’ spread in the US.

The results of that poll, taken from February 28 to March 1, showed a marked drop from the 56 percent of voters who said they approved of Trump’s actions when surveyed from February 24 to February 26th, a decline caused by a 9-point drop in independents approving of his performance, as well as a 7-point drop among Democrats.

The same February 28-March 1 poll showed the number of voters who disapprove rising to 37 percent, which leaves the president’s net approval on the coronavirus issue at 12 points. That’s less than one third of what it was three weeks ago.

The president’s declining approval numbers on coronavirus come despite his attempts to project calm during two press conferences last week, during which he attacked Democrats for supposedly politicizing the issue.

Trump also tried to stem discontent in the financial markets by putting Vice President Mike Pence in charge of coordinating his administration’s response to the outbreak.

But Pence has a checkered history when it comes to public health matters. As governor of Indiana in 2015, the future Vice President presided over an outbreak of HIV — the virus that causes AIDS — among intravenous drug users that saw over 200 people infected.

Although Pence was advised by public health experts to declare a public health emergency and issue emergency regulations to allow needle exchanges to operate in Indiana (which bans them).

Citing his own belief that needle exchange programs encourage drug use (a belief which is contradicted by most public health experts), Pence refused to allow any such emergency measures until roughly two months after the outbreak peaked, when he approved an exchange which would operate for 30 days.

In 2018, Yale University epidemiologists found that the outbreak could have been stemmed had Pence and other state officials acted faster.

“Our findings suggest that with earlier action the actual number of infections recorded in Scott County — 215 — might have been brought down to fewer than 56, if the state had acted in 2013, or to fewer than 10 infections, if they had responded to the [hepatitis C] outbreak in 2010-2011,” the study’s lead author, Forrest W. Crawford, said at the time. “Instead, they cut funding for the last HIV testing provider in the county.”

Another of the paper’s authors, Yale University’s Gregg Gonsalves, tweeted on Wednesday that Trump’s decision to place Pence in charge of coronavirus response ““speaks to a lack of seriousness by the White House.”

When asked on Saturday whether he and Pence would pledge that politics and ideology would play no role in determining how the Trump administration responds to a coronavirus outbreak, Trump refused to do so.

Speaking in his own defense, Pence downplayed the seriousness of the 2015 outbreak, which he said occurred “in a very small town.”

“I think my experience as a governor, dealing with two different infectious diseases and seeing the vital role that local healthcare providers play, that federal officials play, it has really informed me,” he said.

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Trump’s Attempt To Delay Bolton Book Unlikely To Pass Muster With Courts, Experts Say

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President Trump is personally seeking to block publication of his former national security adviser’s book by asserting that any conversation with him is by its very nature classified.

The heretofore unprecedented theory would prevent Ambassador John Bolton, who served as Trump’s national security adviser until last fall, from publishing his book, “The Room Where It Happened,” until either Trump relents and allows it or a judge intervenes after litigation that would undoubtedly delay the book’s publication until well past its announced March 7 release date.

According to The Washington Post, Trump has told aides that he will endeavor to block the book’s publication on the grounds that his conversations with Bolton are classified in their entirety, no matter the topic.

While the president has broad authority to declare information classified — or to declassify it — an assertion that all conversations between him and his national security advisor are classified would contradict the posture taken by the career National Security Council staff tasked with reviewing the manuscript prior to publication.

In a letter sent last month to Bolton attorney Charles Cooper, NSC records office senior director Ellen Knight warned that Bolton’s book “appear[ed] to contain significant amounts of classified information” which had been deemed top secret, but also maintained that the NSC would assist with revisions to excise that information so as to “move forward as expeditiously as possible.”

Knight, a career official whose role places her in charge of the prepublication review process, told Cooper that NSC staff would “do our best to work with you to ensure your client’s ability to tell his story in a manner that protects U.S. national security.”

Joshua Geltzer, a Georgetown University Law Center visiting professor who served as the NSC’s Senior Director for Counterterrorism from 2015-2017, said an assertion that any conversations between Bolton and the president are per se classified was unlikely to pass legal muster.

“At best, that’s mushing classification together with executive privilege,” he said. “Sometimes people think of [classification] as a form of privilege, but it’s not the same as the privilege that attaches to the communications between the President and his closest advisor.”

Geltzer said he would hope that the career NSC officials who’d normally review Bolton’s book would do their jobs “as they understand them to be best and correctly done,” but conceded that Trump could, in theory, overrule them.

If the President wants to overrule them, he definitely has that authority in many, many areas. But I would hope that their instinct is still to do the job correctly, rather than to do it incorrectly.”

Steven Aftergood, a physicist who heads the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy, said claiming any conversation with the president is classified would be an “unusually aggressive and expansive view of classification,” but said such an assertion would not necessarily pass legal muster because the White House would need to indicate to Bolton what information in the book is classified “with a degree of specificity.”

Knight, Aftergood said, would most likely not tolerate such an abuse of the prepublication review process because she is “a career professional who has spent decades distinguishing carefully between what is classified and what is not.”

If Bolton is forced to file suit to ensure publication of his manuscript, Geltzer said judges might not take kindly to such a sweeping declaration of classification in the post-Snowden era.

A judge, he said, could ask for the government to submit an ex parte affidavit — one that is submitted to the court without a copy being seen by the other side — explaining why certain information has been deemed classified at a level that disclosure would cause “grave harm” to national security.

But forcing Bolton to take the White House to court could backfire, he explained.

“Are they really going to claim that John Bolton, a hard, right conservative, is trying to jeopardize national security by disclosing classified information? Who is really going to believe that?” he asked.

“Everyone will understand what what game is being played right now if publication is is blocked, or significantly deferred,” he said. If his book is is delayed for months or longer, everyone will understand that it’s not because of national security reasons, but because of political ones.”

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Party-Line Votes Stop Schumer’s Subpoena Push

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The Senate has rejected a succession of amendments to the rules governing President Trump’s impeachment trial which would direct Chief Justice John Roberts to issue subpoenas to the White House and several executive branch agencies which refused to honor subpoenas issued during the House’s impeachment inquiry.

Senators voted along party lines, 53-47 to table a series of amendments offered to the proposed Republican-authored trial rules by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, which would have compelled the White House, the State Department, and the Office of Management and Budget to produce documents for the Senate to consider as evidence when deciding whether to remove Trump from office for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, condemned Democrats for objecting to the “very reasonable proposal” of using a process similar to that used to try President Bill Clinton in 1999.

“This seems to be a time for Adam Schiff and the house managers to attack the president and lecture the American people,” he said.

While speaking to reporters during a break in the trial, Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar hit back against White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, who during part of his arguments on Tuesday remarked that “some of you” (referring to senators who are currently running for the Democratic presidential nomination) “should be in Iowa” rather than sitting in the Senate chamber.

“I’ve made clear from the very beginning that I’ve got to do my constitutional duty,” she said.

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