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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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White House

Trump Declares National Emergency After He Doesn’t Get His Way With Border Wall Funding

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President Trump announces that he'll be declaring a national emergency to attempt to fund his border wall in the White House Rose Garden on February 15, 2019 (Screenshot/C-SPAN)

WASHINGTON, February 15, 2019 — President Donald Trump on Friday reacted to Congress’ refusal to fully fund his proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border by invoking emergency powers which purportedly allow him to “reprogram” federal funds without the consent of Congress.

“Today I am announcing several critical actions that my administration is taking.”

“We’re going to confront the [national security] crisis on our souther border,” Trump said, adding: “Everyone knows that walls work,” Trump said, citing Israel’s security barrier along the West Bank in the Middle East.

Trump called the idea that most illicit drugs come into the U.S. through ports of entry a “lie” despite statistics from his own Department of Homeland Security which show that most illicit drugs are seized at ports of entry.

“You can’t take big loads through ports of entry,” Trump said. He also suggested that human trafficking was not possible through ports of entry because border agents would see women who are “tied up in the trunk.”

“It’s all a big lie, it’s a big con game. You don’t have to be smart to know you put up a barrier… and people can’t come in until they go right or left and there’s no barrier.”

Trump said that his declaration was not a significant departure from precedent because other presidents had used the National Emergencies Act many times since 1976, when it was signed into law by then-President Gerald Ford.

“It’s been signed many times before. They sign it, nobody cares, I guess they weren’t very exciting.”

“We’re talking about an invasion of our country with drugs, with human traffickers, with all types of criminals and gangs,” he said, citing the existence of “Angel Moms,” a designation for mothers whose children were killed by undocumented immigrants. The designation was created by anti-immigrant group the Remembrance Project.

“So we’re going to be signing a national emergency,” Trump said, calling it “a great thing to do” because of the “invasion” from our country.

He also suggested that China’s drug policy was superior to the United States’ because China executes drug dealers.

Friday’s announcement, the likes of which Trump has openly considered for months, will undoubtedly set up a confrontation between the executive branch and both the legislative and judicial branches as Congress seeks to retain its own constitutional authority over the public purse.

While Congress has seen fit to appropriate only $1.375 billion for border barrier construction, White House Acting Chief of Staff and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said that the declaration will allow Trump to redirect three “pots of money.”

These include 600 million from the Justice Department’s asset forfeiture fund, $2.5 billion from the Pentagon’s anti-drug efforts, and $3.6 billion from the Pentagon’s construction budget, regardless of Congress’ express intentions.

A senior administration official said the total of $8 billion will allow Trump to order construction of approximately 234 miles of “bollard wall” barrier.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., blasted the president’s decision in a statement Thursday.

“Declaring a national emergency would be a lawless act, a gross abuse of the power of the presidency and a desperate attempt to distract from the fact that President Trump broke his core promise to have Mexico pay for his wall,” they wrote

“It is yet another demonstration of President Trump’s naked contempt for the rule of law. This is not an emergency, and the president’s fear-mongering doesn’t make it one. He couldn’t convince Mexico, the American people or their elected representatives to pay for his ineffective and expensive wall, so now he’s trying an end-run around Congress in a desperate attempt to put taxpayers on the hook for it. The Congress will defend our constitutional authorities.”

Even some Republicans criticized the decision and suggested it exceeded the president’s constitutional authority.

“We have a crisis at our southern border, but no crisis justifies violating the Constitution,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said in a statement Thursday.

Maine Senator Susan Collins noted in a statement that the National Emergencies Act, the 1976 law the White House is making use of, was intended for natural disasters or terror attacks.

“It is also of dubious constitutionality, and it will almost certainly be challenged in the courts,” she added.

Collins’ and Rubio’s convictions may be put to the test if Pelosi and House Democrats pass a so-called “resolution of disapproval” to terminate the emergency, which would force Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to hold a vote on the resolution.

McConnell had previously spoken out against the idea of Trump declaring a national emergency on the border, but changed his tune Thursday after the president told him that he’d be signing the appropriations bill needed to stave off another government shutdown.

While Democrats warned that Trump’s invocation of the National Emergencies Act could create a precedent for future Democratic president to follow to take action on gun control or climate change, a senior administration official said Trump’s declaration “creates zero precedent.”

“The president is not waving a magic wand,” the official said, adding that the authority to declare a national emergency has been on the books since 1976.

When asked whether the president was claiming he had authority to ignore specific prohibitions against use of appropriated funds for wall construction, the official claimed that the use of reprogrammed funds in violation of Congress’ prohibition is permissible because those prohibitions do not apply to the previously-appropriated funds the president will be reprogramming.

“This is common authority,” he said.

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McConnell Says Trump to Sign Funding Bill, Declare National Emergency at Border

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WASHINGTON, February 14, 2019 — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday said that President Donald Trump will sign legislation to fund the federal government through the end of the fiscal year, but will declare a national emergency to attempt to repurpose already-appropriated funds for his proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

In a statement, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed that the president will both sign legislation to fund the government and “take other executive action – including a national emergency – to ensure we stop the national security and humanitarian crisis at the border.”

“The President is once again delivering on his promise to build the wall, protect the border, and secure our great country,” she added. 

The decision to declare a national emergency will set up a confrontation with members of Congress, some of whom are protective of the legislative branch’s power to appropriate funds.

Under the National Emergencies Act, if either the House or Senate passes a so-called resolution of disapproval, the other chamber must hold a vote on the same resolution.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Thursday that she “may” challenge the president’s forthcoming declaration in court.

“I’m going to review our options” she said, calling Trump’s decision “an end-run on Congress.”

Pelosi added that the current situation at the border “is not an emergency,” and cautioned that Trump could be setting a dangerous precedent.

“The precedent that the president is setting here is something that should be greeted with great unease and dismay by the Republicans and we’ll respond accordingly,” she said.

Sanders later told reporters that the White House is “very prepared” for a legal challenge, but said there shouldn’t be any.

“The president is doing his job, Congress should do theirs, she said.”

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Here we go again?

Sanders Won’t Rule Out Another Shutdown, Leaves Open Possibility of Compromise Bill Veto

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WASHINGTON, February 13, 2019 — President Donald Trump has not yet ruled out shutting down the government if he is unhappy with the compromise bill Congress plans to send him, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday.

“We want to see what the final piece of legislation looks like,” Sanders said when asked about several media reports which indicated that the president would sign the bill, which has been assembled over the past few weeks by a House-Senate conference committee. 

“It’s hard to say definitively whether or not the president is going to sign it until we know everything that’s in it.”

 Sanders admitted there were “some positive pieces” in the proposed appropriations bill, which provides just over a billion dollars for improvements to existing fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border, but rejected the idea that funding levels in the bill are similar to the deal the president blew up in December after being criticized by right-wing talk radio hosts.

She also stressed that a shutdown is “not what [Trump] wants,” but attempted to preemptively blame Democrats for any shutdown the president might cause by refusing to sign the bipartisan legislation.

“If [a shutdown] happens again, that will be because the Democrats completely failed to do their job and work with the president to secure our border.”

A decision by the president to veto the compromise legislation could lead the Congress to attempt to override that veto. 

But the president has indicated that rather than veto the funding, he may take the constitutionally-questionable route of using executive authority to “reprogram” money appropriated for other purposes to build his wall, which was a centerpiece of his 2016 presidential campaign but is overwhelmingly opposed by a majority of Americans.

Still, Sanders dismissed the suggestion that by attempting to reprogram already-appropriated funds — a decision which would almost certainly be challenged in the courts — the president was planning to “go it alone.”

“Most people across the country know that we need border security and the biggest responsibility the president has is to protect the people of this country,” she said. “I think he’s got the support of Americans all over this country and I’d hardly say that’s going alone.”

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