A downward spiral

January 31, 2018

By Steve Klinger


If the political strategy of the White House and congressional Republicans continues down its current path, and there seems to be no obstacle or spasm of conscience that would serve to impede it, Donald Trump and his supporters will lead this country into a full-blown constitutional crisis that could end what’s left of our democracy. With the House Intelligence Committee’s insistence on releasing a classified and apparently trumped-up (pun intended) memo that would serve to cast the FBI and the Department of Justice as partisan conspirators targeting Trump’s presidency in the Russia investigation, the Trumpeteers are treading on volatile and dangerous ground. At best, they will likely undermine faith in agencies and career professionals who have defended our national security since the beginning of the republic. At worst, they will succeed in brainwashing a fearful and gullible sector of the population that, like them, will stick with Trump despite any transgression, and they will succeed in rewriting reality to suit their needs, which in this case is to undermine the rule of law.


So the Mueller probe is getting too close to the inner circle? Too many insiders are flipping to provide Mueller the damning evidence of attempts to obstruct justice now, if not conspiracy to throw the 2016 election then by cooperating with the Russians? So Trump’s trail to the White House went through Moscow and Deutsche Bank, with evidence of widespread money-laundering and other criminality? The more smoking guns Mueller uncovers, the more Trump and his minions try desperately to turn the tables and point fingers at the very agencies investigating them, with a lot of help from Sean Hannity, talk radio and congressmen like Devin Nunes.


The trajectory is obvious: If the memo, for all its flaws, succeeds in casting aspersions on FBI Director Christopher Wray and Acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and their agencies, it will provide Trump with cover for firing them, especially Rosenstein, who appointed Robert Mueller after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself. With Rosenstein gone, Trump could plow through deputy after deputy until he finds someone willing to fire Mueller—or perhaps worse, appoint an additional special counsel to investigate Mueller (while Mueller is still investigating Russia and Trump).


Since no Republican running for re-election has thus far shown the backbone to challenge Trump’s behavior, it could eventually spell the end of the Russia investigation if the memo in question is released by the White House in the coming days, despite warnings and protests from the Justice Department about the terrible precedent the release would set. Compounding matters, the classified nature of the document would make it unlawful for those opposing its release to lay bare its inconsistencies or misleading conclusions.


When the prevailing test for government appointees and career professionals is loyalty to the president and not the institutions and the rule of law, then we are already far down the slope of descending into authoritarianism. If we back a criminal president by challenging the motives and legitimacy of the justice system that has served us for 240 years, and this is accomplished with brazen congressional complicity, then we are no longer talking about a presidency but a dictatorship. If Trump will not allow the judicial system to fulfill its constitutional duty, then it along with Congress becomes irrelevant, as only the executive branch is left to truly exercise power.


If you think that once Trump eradicates the Russia investigation and succeeds in establishing a government of loyalists he will bow to the people’s will in a future election, then there is a bridge in Brooklyn I would like to sell you. And there is a copy of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four I will gladly give you.


The times were different, as were the language and the particular circumstances, but men like Hitler and Mussolini seized power with similar thinking and tactics—not overnight, but incrementally—‑with one self-serving decision after another, unimpeded by defenders of democracy, or rather, abetted by them as they proved themselves hypocrites and co-conspirators.


Watch these next few weeks. If no one stops Trump now there will be no stopping him later.

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