"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg

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“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Today's Must-Read: Yes, I Said "Dictator": A Twofer

First up, this commentary by Digby on Trump's attitude toward the press:

You will notice that Trump’s main nemesis is still the press, which he has villainized since he began his campaign. One suspects that this started out as shtick, building on the thousands of hours of talk-radio research that his lieutenant at the time, Sam Nunberg, provided to him. Beating up on the press is a staple of right-wing media and it gets a huge response from conservative crowds. But up until he started the campaign Trump had always reveled in media attention and went to great lengths to draw it. In fact, he considered himself a member of the club. But over the course of time the hatred has obviously become very real and very personal. He loathes the press and considers it the source of all of his problems.

Obviously, he isn’t the first president to feel this way. Richard Nixon famously kept an enemies list which included a large number of journalists. But Trump is taking this in a dangerous direction. The New York Times story about James Comey’s memo rightly focused on the fact that the president may have tried to obstruct justice by taking the FBI director aside privately to ask him to let Trump’s disgraced former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, off the hook. But Trump said something else in that meeting which has received less attention:

Alone in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump began the discussion by condemning leaks to the news media, saying that Mr. Comey should consider putting reporters in prison for publishing classified information, according to one of Mr. Comey’s associates.

I find that quote from the Times story very revealing on a couple of counts. First, we all know the FBI doesn't put people in jail -- but Trump doesn't. It's emblematic, however, of his whole attitude that he seems to think all he has to do is make the suggestion and it's a done deal. Second, and much more worrying, is the fact that he made the suggestion at all. Perhaps it's not so surprising, given that he's already branded the press as an "enemy of the people" -- which his followers ate up. (It's worth noting here something that I've not seen in any analysis of the "Trump voter": They are the natural fodder for the authoritarian: they want to be told what to think and what to believe, and they have no understanding or particular reverence for our foundational principles -- such as an independent press.)

This attitude is filtering down to law enforcement and the security details of government officials.

There's an element of lawlessness in all of this that is really dangerous, especially since, as we might well suppose, the Department of Justice under the present attorney general is not going to be bothered with reining in rogue law enforcement -- after all, there's police morale to worry about.

Second is this piece by Benjamin Wittes specifically about Trump and James Comey. The key paragraph, at least for purposes of this post:

Comey never told me the details of the dinner meeting; I don’t think I even knew that there had been a meeting over dinner until I learned it from the Times story. But he did tell me in general terms that early on, Trump had “asked for loyalty” and that Comey had promised him only honesty. He also told me that Trump was perceptibly uncomfortable with this answer. And he said that ever since, the President had been trying to be chummy in a fashion that Comey felt was designed to absorb him into Trump’s world—to make him part of the team. Comey was deeply uncomfortable with these episodes. He told me that Trump sometimes talked to him a fashion designed to implicate him in Trump’s way of thinking. While I was not sure quite what this meant, it clearly disquieted Comey. He felt that these conversations were efforts to probe how resistant he would be to becoming a loyalist. In light of the dramatic dinner meeting and the Flynn request, it’s easy to see why they would be upsetting and feel like attempts at pressure.

The whole idea of personal loyalty to the president as a requirement for a government official is, in what's left of this republic, at least, anathema. It's the sort of thing you expect from the likes of Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong-Un. In America, we want government officials who are competent and loyal to the country.

Granted, personal relationships matter a great deal, in government as well as in daily life -- we are what we are, after all, which is essentially social animals -- but most of us recognize by the age of two or three that we're not the center of the universe. Trump has not, apparently, made it that far in his emotional development.

What I'm seeing here is an incipient cult of personality, one of the hallmarks of dictators throughout history. That, coupled with Trump's disdain for the basics of the American system of government -- which has become a signature characteristic of the right in general -- is much more than cause for concern.

Footnote: It's not just Trump himself that hates America.

Footnote 2: About the Republican attitude, read this from Paul Krugman:

They may make a few gestures toward accountability in the face of bad poll numbers, but there is not a hint that any important figures in the party care enough about the Constitution or the national interest to take a stand.

Krugman holds up one really scary possibility, but doesn't seem to make the connection:

The point is that given the character of the Republican Party, we’d be well on the way to autocracy if the man in the White House had even slightly more self-control. Trump may have done himself in; but it can still happen here.

If Trump is somehow removed from office -- and like Krugman, I'm not counting on the Republican majority to move on that, unless they start losing elections -- we're left with Mike Pense, who in real terms, given the realities of the situation, is a much scarier prospect, at least for the long-term health of the country.

OK, yeah, another must-read. Deal with it.

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