opinion

Dear Leader

Trump Is America’s First Lawless President

…and the Republican Party is following his lead as America’s republic breaks down.

opinion

Photo Illustration by Lyne Lucien/The Daily Beast

The Founding Fathers weren’t all that interested in creating a democracy. You need to know this.

Oh, they created one, because they knew that legitimacy devolved from the people. But they were fearful that it could lead to mob rule. What they really set out to create was a republic.

The distinction is crucial. A democracy is a country where the majority rules. A republic is a nation of laws. This was the founders’ number one priority. There’s that famous Ben Franklin quote, when they walked out of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 and a woman saw him and asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” He replied: “A republic, if you can keep it.”

Our republic—our system of laws—is under assault in a way I’ve never seen and I don’t think has ever happened. Richard Nixon was a lawbreaker. He was not utterly and thoroughgoingly lawless. There’s a difference. Donald Trump is a lawless president. It’s obvious to anyone who’s watching and isn’t in a state of contemptible denial that he feels constrained by no law. He cares nothing about the Constitution and he’ll lie about anything to anyone at anytime. That’s difference one.

Difference two: Nixon had no “news” channel defending and egging on his every lawless act. Trump, of course, does. That Fox chyron over the weekend, “A Coup in America?”, was shocking even for Fox. Referring to law enforcement agencies, to the FBI, as carrying out a coup? Because they have the audacity to investigate Dear Leader?

Difference three: Nixon also didn’t have a lawless Republican Party defending his moves and attacking his critics and trying to shut down an obviously legitimate investigation, but that is what we have now. Some Republican lawlessness has little to do with and in fact predates Trump: The party’s decision, for example, that the Constitution didn’t really mean that the president gets to appoint Supreme Court justices if he’s in his eighth year of service was completely lawless. The process by which they’re passing this tax bill is not exactly lawless, maybe, but it’s an offense and affront to this country’s norms and traditions. No hearings, no expert witnesses, no written bill, no regular order, no need for a cloture vote, no serious discussion with any Democrats even though four or five would have voted for a different bill, no Congressional Budget Office score, no normal conference committee process… All right, actually. Call it lawless if you want.

So that’s the non-Trumpy lawlessness. Then there’s the Trumpy lawlessness, which is far worse and a much graver threat. Republican members of Congress running interference for Trump and helping to lay the groundwork for the firing of Robert Mueller constitutes a mustard-gas attack on the rule of law. This past weekend, Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, probably the biggest lackey of the whole bunch—certainly the most bone-chilling, with that scornful scowl and enthusiasm for browbeating witnesses whose words don’t echo the Pravda line—said he’s gotten a commitment from House higher-ups that leading FBI and Justice Department officials looking into the Russia matter will be subpoenaed.

And among GOP senators, after nearly every one of them said last summer that firing Mueller would constitute a grave error? As I reported last week, the bills many senators were hot on passing to protect Mueller now look to be going nowhere, on the laughable grounds that there’s no serious threat that Mueller will be fired (seriously, that’s what Lindsey Graham said). It is on their backs and consciences, I hate to tell you, that the fate of the republic might depend.

It’s hard to accept and believe that this is happening in the United States of America. If you missed what they did over the weekend… I’m tempted to say you’re almost better off in your ignorance, but I can’t say that. Read on.

  1. News broke last Friday that Mueller had Trump campaign emails.
  2. The Trump for America lawyer wrote a letter Saturday to the General Services Administration contending that any seizure of emails was against the law and violative of a prior agreement between Mueller’s team and the campaign.
  3. The letter got leaked to Fox.
  4. By Sunday morning, the story in the press was “Trump lawyer says Muller obtained emails illegally.” The Washington Post’s original story, posted in an excess of haste and later updated, took the Trump lawyer’s word for it and didn’t even quote any independent experts at first.

Over the course of Sunday morning, the pushback gained strength. People who served on prior transition teams tweeted that the Trump position was false. Sunday morning, I reached via email Chris Lu, who ran Obama’s transition. He wrote back: “During the 2008-09 transition, we had no expectation of privacy in our emails. It was also our understanding that our emails would be treated as if we were working in the federal government.”

So, they tried to start a controversy to muddy the Mueller waters further—based on a total lie.

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That’s the inside baseball. And here’s the big picture. Step back and contemplate this bitter irony. Here are the hired guns of the president who as a candidate begged the Russian government to hack into and publicize Hillary’s emails now asserting that their own emails could not be viewed by the United States government!

The founders assumed that the republic part of our national identity would protect us from the excesses of the democracy part. That is, our laws would save us from the tyranny of the majority; from mob rule.

But look at our situation. This isn’t even tyranny of the majority. This is tyranny of a minority. Trump’s at 35 percent. Majorities oppose him. He lost the popular vote, so he lacks that basic legitimacy. Majorities oppose the GOP agenda and this tax bill. Majorities think the Russia matter needs to be investigated and agree it’s likely that the Trump campaign had improper dealings with Russia.

This is exactly the opposite of what the founders feared. Today, a lawful and small-r republican majority is being tyrannized by a lawless and anti-republican minority. The concept would have been so alien to the founders that they didn’t have a name for it. In more recent times, we’ve seen some examples of lawless minorities. They’ve gone by different names here and there, and I think you know who they are. Today in America, they’re all Republicans, but they’re sure not republicans.