FCC Will Not Take Action Against Stephen Colbert For Anti-Trump Monologue

Conservatives love to censor free speech, and late night talk show hosts who make fun of Republicans are a common target. This includes the attacks on David Letterman in 2009 when conservatives falsely accused him of making a joke about Willow Palin while she was a minor. Conservatives probably like his successor, Stephen Colbert, even less. Colbert tends to be much more political than Letterman. This includes this rant against Trump in his monologue following Trump’s interview with John Dickerson:

Mr. Trump, your presidency — I love your presidency. I call it ‘Disgrace the Nation.’ You’re not the POTUS — you’re the BLOTUS. You’re the glutton with the button. You’re a regular ‘Gorge’ Washington. You’re the presi-dunce, but you’re turning into a real prick-tator. Sir you attract more skinheads than free Rogaine. You have more people marching against you than cancer. You talk like a sign language gorilla who got hit in the head. In fact, the only thing your mouth is good for is being Vladimir Putin’s c**k holster. Your presidential library is gonna be a kids menu and a couple of ‘Jugs’ magazines. The only thing smaller than your hands is your tax returns. And you can take that any way you want.

Video of the full monologue follows:

Conservatives complained about the line, “the only thing your mouth is good for is being Vladimir Putin’s c**k holster” (with the potentially offensive word bleeped out when the show aired). Complaints were filed with the FCC, which reviewed Colbert’s monologue and found no violation of their rules: “Consistent with standard operating procedure, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau has reviewed the complaints and the material that was the subject of these complaints. The Bureau has concluded that there was nothing actionable under the FCC’s rules.”

It was not expected that the FCC would take action against Colbert as it gives a lot of leeway between 10 pm and 6 am. Taking action against comedians mocking Trump would have a chilling effect on freedom of speech.

The election of Donald Trump has been great for the ratings of the late night talk show hosts, and has benefited the more political hosts such as Colbert as opposed to previous ratings leader Jimmy Fallon. Deadline reports:

Colbert’s CBS Late Show will win the 2016-17 TV season in total viewers – CBS’ first win over NBC’s The Tonight Show in overall audience with a season-long host since the 1994-95 TV season. The qualifier excludes the 2009-2010 TV season when NBC replaced Conan O’Brien with Jay Leno midway through the season.

Democratic Party Stronger Without The Clintons

The 2016 election was unique in which, while their partisans might not realize it, each party would be better off if their candidate lost the presidential election. Both parties had horrible candidates, and each party would pay a price if their candidate was president. The damage to the Republican brand since Trump has been elected has been obvious. This distracts from noticing the benefits to Democrats from not being dragged further to the right by DLC Democrats such as the Clintons.

Democrats have misread recent politics in seeing Bill Clinton’s victory as evidence that the path of the Democratic Leadership Conference was the way to win. In reality, Bill Clinton won due to his own personal political skills, not by his desire to turn the Democratic Party into a Republican-Lite Party. The Clinton/DLC philosophy too conservative and out of date in the 1990’s, and it is even less relevant to the 21st century. Democrats lost off year elections in 2010 and 2014 by running as Republican-Lite and refusing to stand for anything. This culminated in nominating Hillary Clinton, who managed to lose to Donald Trump.

While Clinton partisans will never agree, polling data and the election results presents a pretty strong case that if the Democrats had nominate Bernie Sanders instead of Clinton they could have won the White House, and probably taken control of the Senate. The Democratic establishment has totally misread the mood of the country and were misled by an out-dated left/right linear political spectrum, failing to see that many independents would vote for Sanders, but not for Clinton.

While the Democratic establishment still desires to exclude Sanders, others are giving him credit for revitalizing the Democratic Party. Buzz Feed editor Ben Smith writes, While You Were Watching Trump, The Democratic Party Changed: Bernie Sanders lost the primary but reshaped his party.

“What happened in the presidential campaign is that Bernie ran explicitly in support of a Medicare-for-all approach” — a simple framework for single-payer — “and what the politicians saw is that voters were fine with that,” said Vermont Rep. Peter Welch, a longtime advocate of single payer.

“It’s inclusive and it doesn’t get us into the identity politics divisions that are problematic,” he said. “It gets us into inclusive politics.”

And if Sanders made single-payer safe for Democrats, Trump’s extremely unpopular foray into health care policy with the American Health Care Act has created a new landscape. Democrats’ blend of private-sector structures with government money and incentives, Obamacare, never became truly popular. A Republican version of that hybrid system, tilted toward the markets and away from guarantees, isn’t popular either.

“Then the default becomes, well the private market doesn’t work, the next thing is single-payer,” said an insurance industry executive close to the politics of the issue, who noted that the CEO of Aetna recently shocked the industry by calling for a serious debate about what single-payer would look like. (To the insurance industry, it could look like a new sluice of predictable revenue.)

“This is probably going to be like what happened with Republicans on immigration,” the insurance industry official said. “You may even have a bigger swath of Democrats who are not for single-payer but the single-payer group is becoming so outspoken that other voices are muted.”

It remains to be seen whether the Democratic Party will really change for the better, but there was little or no hope if a politician as conservative as Hillary Clinton had won and had the opportunity to shape the party. While she claims at times to be a progressive, she is a “progressive” who fights for conservative results. Clinton was hardly progressive when she supported making flag burning a felony, censoring video games, supported restricting freedom of speech to fight terrorism, defended the use of cluster bombs in civilian areas, supported parental notification laws, making abortion rare (a statement which stigmatizes women who have abortions and plays into GOP attempts to restrict abortions), leaving gay marriage up to the states (a position she finally changed but lagging behind the country tremendously), the Patriot Act, the discriminatory Workplace Religious Freedom Act, working with the Fellowship in the Senate to increase the role of religion in public policy and undermine the principle of separation of church and state, opposed single payer health care, opposed needle exchange programs, supported a hard line on the drug war, promoted increased government secrecy, supported going to war in Iraq war based upon false claims of a connection between Saddam and al Qaeda (without even bothering to read the intelligence material made available for members of the Senate), pushed for military intervention in Libya and Syria, and resuming the Cold War with Russia.

If Clinton was president, far too many Democrats would be rationalizing and defending Clinton’s views and actions. Instead, the defeat of Clinton opens the door for a more liberal Democratic Party. It also increases the chances of Democratic gains in 2018. If Clinton had been elected, we would probably see a continuation of Democratic loses in Congress and state governments. Instead there is talk of a possible Democratic wave in 2018. For many matters, the state government has more day to day impact on our lives than the federal government. For those of us who saw our state governments get taken over by Republicans since 2010, the defeat of Clinton gives hope of throwing the Republicans out.

With Trump in the White House, we have terrible policies, but also massive opposition to him. Plus with Trump in the White House, we have the added benefit of seeing the Republican president being the subject of scandals and possible impeachment, instead of the inevitable scandals to be seen under Hillary Clinton. The manner in which she spent the last couple of years repeatedly lying about the email and Foundations scandals should provide additional warnings about what could be expected with Clinton in the White House.

Donald Trump has been a terrible president, but it would have been a disaster regardless of who won. At least there is now  hope for a better future.

Donald Trump’s Ominous Parallels To The Rise Of Authoritarianism

The firing of James Comey by Donald Trump is yet another example of Donald Trump varying from Democratic norms. It is a disturbing case of a president working to destroy our system of checks and balances, demanding a pledge of loyalty from someone in a position designed to be independent of such political pressure.  I posted several opinions on this act yesterday, often from the perspective of comparing Trump’s actions to Richard Nixon’s acts to obstruct justice during the Watergate investigation.

There are even more ominous parallels which can be drawn. Donald Trump has already expressed a disturbing degree of admiration for dictators.  Vox looked at the firing of James Comey from the perspective of people who have studies the rise of authoritarian leaders. Some excerpts:

“Trump has talked like a would-be authoritarian since day one. … This is the first clear warning sign that he’s attempting to [act like one].”

Those are the words not of a Democratic political operative or a fringe liberal Trump critic, but of Yascha Mounk, a respected scholar of democracy at Harvard, reacting to Preisdent Trump’s abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey…

To people who study the rise of authoritarian leaders, just those facts alone are terrifying.

“This is very common — in semi-authoritarian and authoritarian regimes,” Erica Chenoweth, a professor at the University of Denver, tells me. “Purges, summary firings, imprisonment: These are all things that authoritarian leaders do when they attempt to rid themselves of rivals within government.”

Comey’s firing, these political scientists say, fits a pattern that’s very common in democracies that collapse into authoritarianism in the modern era. It’s not that the elected leaders in these countries set out to become an authoritarian, per se. It’s that they care about their own power and security above all else, and do things to protect their own position that have the effect of removing democratic constraints on their power.

One of the first steps in this pattern is weakening independent sources of power that can check the executive’s actions. Like, say, the director of your domestic security service who just happens to be investigating your administration’s foreign ties.

Trump “has what you might think of as autocratic tendencies, which were probably perfectly normal in the business world but are very problematic in the political world,” says Sheri Berman, a professor at Barnard College. “What he would like to do is eliminate all sources of opposition to him — indeed, even sources of criticism of him — and he’s willing to do pretty much anything to do that.”

When most people think about the collapse of democracy, they think about the Nazis, or maybe a military coup. In both cases, a leader comes to power with the explicit goal of taking a democratic system and replacing it with an authoritarian one. They then immediately pass laws banning dissent and use force to shut down all sources of political opposition.

That actually doesn’t happen very much anymore. Outright fascist movements were mostly discredited after World War II, and data on military coups shows a clear decline in their frequency since a peak in the 1960s.

But in the past 20 years or so, we’ve started to see a new kind of creeping authoritarianism emerge in places around the world — something that, in the wake of Trump’s recent actions, now has ominous parallels to the United States.

Leaders in these kinds of countries — Viktor Orbán in Hungary, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey, and both Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela — don’t come into power and immediately dissolve the legislature and get rid of elections. What they do is corrupt those institutions, slowly and over time, rendering legislatures powerless and elections not truly competitive.

“It looks the same from the outside — there’s elections, there’s a judiciary, there’s a bureaucracy,” Berman says. “But the sort of power centers within those things, the people who populate them, have changed dramatically, so that … the substance of true democratic competition, true power competition, no longer exists.”

The vital first step toward this kind of “soft authoritarianism” is unified control over every key part of government. That starts with personnel: You can’t corrupt a judiciary staffed with impartial judges, or suborn election officials who are truly committed to running free and fair contests.

Instead, you need to fire people at key pressure points and replace them with cronies, or weaken the institution’s formal abilities to the point where it can’t really provide effective oversight…

There’s a reason FBI directors don’t get fired. The bureau handles, among many other things, criminal investigations involving the executive branch, so its leader needs to be as nonpartisan and clear of influence as possible. That’s why FBI directors have 10-year terms and are generally asked to stay on by new administrations, even if the director was appointed under a president of the opposing party…

“I don’t think we’ve crossed any bright lines distinguishing authoritarian systems from democratic ones,” Jay Ulfelder, a political scientist who studies the rise and fall of democracies, tells me.

The issue, instead, is the precedent that this sets for the Trump administration. If Trump’s firing of the man who’s investigating him successfully neuters the FBI and slows down its investigation of the Trump-Russia ties, that’s one less check on his power going forward. If he gets a clear message that the checks on him when he grabs for power are pliable, how far will he end up pushing the envelope?

The article also points out that Democratic institutions in this country are much stronger than in other countries mentioned which have fallen into authoritarianism, although it is of concern that many Republicans in Congress appear willing to go a long with Trump for partisan gain. The degree of protest over Trump’s actions around the country since his inauguration is also a hopeful sign.

Brian Beutler also addressed this topic:

The firing of James Comey has restarted a conversation about the vulnerability of public institutions in America that had gone largely dormant.

Before Tuesday, one of the most remarkable things about Donald Trump’s presidency was how sturdy it had shown competitor institutions, and the larger system of checks and balances, to be. Courts have beat back his power grabs; media, for all its flaws, has been more skeptical of the claims and actions of the Trump administration than of any administration in recent history. Civil society organizations have flourished, and a vital protest movement has both slowed the GOP legislative agenda, and forced some Republicans in Congress to expect a measure of accountability from the White House.

For those who were relieved by this, Comey’s firing should be a frightful awakening from complacency.

The immediate threat of the Trump presidency wasn’t that he would sap the public of its civic-mindedness, or intimidate judges and reporters into submission with his tweets. It was to the institutions under his control—the ones within the executive branch—and particularly those with meaningful independence from political actors in the White House. Because the path to neutralizing or coopting external institutions runs through corrupting internal ones…

If Trump gets away with firing Comey—if Republicans let him nominate any director he wants; if they resist the pressure to insist on appointing a special prosecutor, or to convene an investigative body; if they squash inquiries into the firing itself—he will read it as permission to run amok. As The Atlantic’s Ron Brownstein wrote, Trump’s “appetite for shattering democratic constraints is only likely to grow.”

Absent consequences, Trump will rightly feel liberated to appoint whomever he wants to run the IRS when the current commissioner’s term expires later this year. More alarmingly, he will know that he can get away with ordering a crackdown on voting rights or investigations of his political enemies. And, perversely, these are the reasons he is more likely to prevail. How many Republicans who entered the devil’s bargain with Trump for policy victories wouldn’t expand the terms to encompass electoral ones? Friends of Trump win elections and everyone else is at his mercy. Trump was reportedly upset that Comey did not pledge loyalty to him, and was charging ahead with an investigation that Trump finds threatening. When loyalty and corruption become job qualifications for political appointees, the president will have the power he needs to stifle protest leaders, judges, the free press, and political rivals. He won’t even have to make threats.

Once Again, The Data Shows Clinton Lost Because Obama Voters Backed Trump Over Her

When people have taken a serious look at the data available related to the 2016 election,  similar findings keep coming up. Hillary Clinton did not lose because of Russia, misogyny, James Comey, Bernie Bros, or Jill Stein voters. In March I noted data which showed that Clinton lost because of white working class voters who previously voted for Obama but shifted to Trump. Democratic Party strategists looked more data, and came to the same conclusion. McClatchy reports:

Many Democrats have a shorthand explanation for Clinton’s defeat: Her base didn’t turn out, Donald Trump’s did and the difference was too much to overcome.

But new information shows that Clinton had a much bigger problem with voters who had supported President Barack Obama in 2012 but backed Trump four years later.

Those Obama-Trump voters, in fact, effectively accounted for more than two-thirds of the reason Clinton lost, according to Matt Canter, a senior vice president of the Democratic political firm Global Strategy Group. In his group’s analysis, about 70 percent of Clinton’s failure to reach Obama’s vote total in 2012 was because she lost these voters.

In recent months, Canter and other members of Global Strategy Group have delivered a detailed report of their findings to senators, congressmen, fellow operatives and think tank wonks – all part of an ongoing effort to educate party leaders about what the data says really happened in last year’s election.

“We have to make sure we learn the right lesson from 2016, that we don’t just draw the lesson that makes us feel good at night, make us sleep well at night,” Canter said.

His firm’s conclusion is shared broadly by other Democrats who have examined the data, including senior members of Clinton’s campaign and officials at the Democratic data and analytics firm Catalist. (The New York Times, doing its own analysis, reached a similar conclusion.)

Greg Sargent reviewed polling data and further connected this to economic concerns:

“[Hillary] Clinton and Democrats’ economic message did not break through to drop-off or Obama-Trump voters, even though drop-off voters are decidedly anti-Trump,” Priorities USA concluded in a presentation of its polling data and focus group findings, which has been shown to party officials in recent days.

The poll found that Obama-Trump voters, many of whom are working-class whites and were pivotal to Trump’s victory, are economically losing ground and are skeptical of Democratic solutions to their problems…

A sizable chunk of Obama-Trump voters — 30 percent — said their vote for Trump was more a vote against Clinton than a vote for Trump. Remember, these voters backed Obama four years earlier.

There was brief mention of  Clinton’s“high unfavorable ratings,” but it appears they might be paying too little attention to this key factor. Polls have shown that Clinton is distrusted. There have been numerous stories during the campaign cycle about how she used her political positions to obtain personal wealth, between her influence peddling as Secretary of State and her Wall Street Speeches. This would be expected to alienate those voting based upon economic anxieties, and reinforce the view that the Democratic nominee was not offering solutions to their problems. These people previously voted for Barack Obama, and showed they would support Bernie Sanders. They were not willing to vote for Hillary Clinton.

While there is no doubt that Clinton lost many Obama voters over economic concerns, I do wonder if other problems are missed due to not being represented in the polling data released per the above link. Going beyond economics, during the Bush years, and going into Obama’s presidency, the conventional view among Democrats was that Bush and the Republicans are evil for going into Iraq, restricting civil liberties to supposedly fight terrorism, and decreasing government transparency. Hillary Clinton’s record here is virtually indistinguishable from George Bush’s, and now the Democratic establishment says: Don’t listen to purists on the left who object to Clinton’s support for war in Iraq, Libya, and Syria, along with a resumption of Cold War style hostilities with Russia, her support for restricting civil liberties to fight terrorism, and her hostility towards government transparency. We must unite to fight the evil Republicans.

Democrats have a serious messaging problem, including but certainly not limited to economics.

Hypocritical Attacks On Sanders From The Clinton Camp

I supported Bernie Sanders for the 2016 presidential nomination. As will probably always be the case, this was because he was the best choice available, not because I agree with him on all matters. One major area where we differed  was in Sanders’ stressing economic matters, while my support for Sanders was more heavily influenced by opposition to Clinton-style military interventionism and on social issues. Despite the manner in which Sanders prioritized economic issues, he did have strong liberal positions in other areas, including being more liberal than Hillary Clinton on abortion rights.

I have my doubts about Sanders campaigning for an anti-abortion candidate in Omaha, but this has no bearing on wanting to see the Democratic Party move in the direction of Sanders as opposed to moving to the right with Hillary Clinton and her supporters. In contrast, many Clinton supporters are using this as yet another reason to attack Sanders.

I understand the problems some Clinton supporters have with Bernie Sanders campaigning for a candidate with Heath Mello’s position on abortion. However, I would have more respect for their position if they didn’t support a candidate like Hillary Clinton who supported greater military intervention in Iraq, Libya, and Syria, pushed for a resumption of cold war tensions with Russia, has supported suppression of civil liberties to supposedly fight terrorism, introduced legislation to make flag burning by protesters a felony, opposed same-sex marriage until this was no longer a position which she could survive with politically, sided with Republicans in blocking legislation to ban cluster bombs in civilian areas, has supported mass incarceration and remains hawkish on the drug war, opposed needle exchange programs, opposed programs to distribute free condoms to reduce the spread of AIDS, worked with the Fellowship while in the Senate to increase the role of religion in public policy, has strongly opposed government transparency, supported the Workplace Religious Freedom Act, has engaged in influence peddling, has opposed single-payer health care, ran as a “pro-gun churchgoer” in 2008, has supported restrictions on abortion herself, and has repeatedly acted to protect the corrupting influence of money in politics.

It is rather hypocritical that they can ignore all of this with Clinton, but now demand ideological purity from Bernie Sanders. Fighting the Republican attempts to restrict reproductive rights is important, as are the other issues I mentioned above. Considering how conservative Hillary Clinton is on foreign policy, First Amendment issues, and social/cultural issues, and how she has spent much of her career undermining liberal goals, nobody who supports Hillary Clinton is in any position to criticize Sanders over campaigning for Mello.

Support For Marijuana Legalization At All Time High–Both Major Party Candidates Out Of Step With The Country

CBS News reports that a record number of Americans support legalization of marijuana:

A recent CBS News poll shows support for legalizing marijuana is higher than ever.

Sixty-one percent of Americans think marijuana use should be legal, a five-point increase from last year and the highest percentage ever recorded in this poll. Eighty-eight percent favor medical marijuana use.

Seventy-one percent oppose the federal government’s efforts to stop marijuana sales and its use in states that have legalized it, including opposition from most Republicans, Democrats, and independents.

Sixty-five percent think marijuana is less dangerous than most other drugs. And only 23 percent think legalizing marijuana leads to an increase violent crime.

Despite this, neither political party represented the views of Americans on this issue. Hillary Clinton has always been a hard line supporter of the drug war, supporting mass incarceration about as much as she has supported killing around the world in the actual wars she has backed. She even had her daughter spread an off the wall message that marijuana is killing people (which Chelsea later walked back). Even when Clinton tried to play down how much her views were out of touch with the rest of the country, Wikileaks showed that her private position remained strongly opposed to legalization.

Donald Trump personally has been as inconsistent and incoherent on drug policy as on pretty much every other issue. Regardless of Trump’s personal views, the Trump administration is starting out with an extremely hard line view, led by Jeff Sessions.

This is just one of many ways in which both major parties were out of step with the views of most Americans, and how the views of Clinton and Trump were not all that far apart. The two major parties failed in proving satisfactory candidates on this and many other issues. In contrast, both Jill Stein (Green Party) and Gary Johnson (Libertarian Party) supported an end to marijuana prohibition. Similarly, both Clinton and Trump support continued interventionism in the middle east, expansion of the surveillance state, and restrictions on civil liberties to supposedly fight terrorism. Third party candidates Stein and Johnson, although quite different in other areas, also had similar views in opposing the status quo on interventionism and restricting civil liberties.

Something is terribly wrong with a system which limited us to a choice of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in terms of major party candidates.

Do The Democrats Have A Death Wish?

The Democratic Party not only lost the fight over who would fill Antonin Scalia’s Supreme Court seat, but they might also be conceding defeat for the future. Talking Points Memo quotes Senator Ed Markey:

“When the Democrats return to the majority and capture the presidency, which we will, that day is going to arrive, we will restore the 60-vote margin,” Markey told MSNBC’s Katy Tur. “We will ensure that, for the Supreme Court, there is that special margin that any candidate has to reach because that is essential to ensuring that our country has a confidence in those people that are nominated, rather than just someone who just passes a litmus test.”

Do Democrats secretly wish to lose?

Assuming that he isn’t saying this for political posturing without any intent to do so, and that his views are representative of the party, this makes no sense. Why allow the Republicans to confirm Justices with only 51 votes, but then go back to requiring 60 votes to confirm liberal Justices to undo the harm caused by the Republicans?

Maybe Markey wants to stand up for principle, but if so there are far more fundamental liberal principles which the Democratic Party has repeatedly compromised on than the view that a Supreme Court Justice should require sixty votes for confirmation. Maybe this could be reconsidered at some future point should the Republican Party return to sanity, but this is not the time to make such a decision. In the meantime, perhaps the Democrats should stick to principles on matters such as defending civil liberties and reversing the surveillance state. Perhaps they should fight to avoid repeating the mistakes of the Bush years in intervening in the middle east. Instead we have Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer supporting Trump’s airstrikes in Syria, and other Democratic leaders including Howard Dean attacking Tulsi Gabbard who has been promoting peace.

Of course we should not be surprised, considering how the Democratic establishment rigged the 2016 nomination for Hillary Clinton, who both was to the right of Antonin Scalia on civil liberties, and favored far more extensive, and dangerous, intervention in Syria than the attack by Donald Trump. Of course that was also another example of the Democrats showing an inability to win, in nominating the worst possible candidate to run against Donald Trump. If you are going to rig a party’s nomination, at least do so for a candidate who can win–unless you have a death wish.

Trump Administration Trying To Find Identity Of Anonymous Anti-Trump Account

Earlier in the week I had a post about the Authoritarianism of Donald Trump. We are seeing another example of the Trump administration’s lack of respect for First Amendment rights in an attempt to seek the identity of an anonymous Twitter account which has been critical of Trump’s immigration policy. As Gizmodo notes, “Obviously, an attempt by the Trump administration to obtain information associated with an anonymous Twitter account critical of the government is a frightening and startling precedent.”

Twitter has filed suit, with the support of the ACLU. The Intercept reports on Twitter’s suit.

Twitter is now asking the court to declare that “the CBP Summons is unlawful and unenforceable because it violates the First Amendment rights of both Twitter and its users by seeking to unmask the identity of one or more anonymous Twitter users voicing criticism of the government on matters of public concern.” Esha Bhandari of the ACLU told The Intercept that the group is personally defending the Twitter account owner, and will be filing “in court shortly to defend the user’s rights, focusing on the user’s First Amendment right to speak anonymously.” Although Bhandari would not comment on whether the account is actually run by a federal employee or employees, she noted that “on the face of the summons the government has offered no reason for seeking this information.”

My earlier post on The Authoritarianism of Donald Trump was based upon a series of editorials in The Los Angeles Times this week on Donald Trump. This was followed yesterday with a post on Donald Trump’s War on Journalism. Today The Los Angeles Times wrote about The Conspiracy Theorist In Chief.

Donald Trump’s War on Journalism And The Price Republicans Will Face For His Presidency

The Los Angeles Times is continuing its series of posts on Donald Trump, today addressing Trump’s War on Journalism. Here are some portions:

In Donald Trump’s America, the mere act of reporting news unflattering to the president is held up as evidence of bias. Journalists are slandered as “enemies of the people.”

Facts that contradict Trump’s version of reality are dismissed as “fake news.” Reporters and their news organizations are “pathetic,” “very dishonest,” “failing,” and even, in one memorable turn of phrase, “a pile of garbage.”

…By branding reporters as liars, he apparently hopes to discredit, disrupt or bully into silence anyone who challenges his version of reality. By undermining trust in news organizations and delegitimizing journalism and muddling the facts so that Americans no longer know who to believe, he can deny and distract and help push his administration’s far-fetched storyline.

It’s a cynical strategy, with some creepy overtones. For instance, when he calls journalists “enemies of the people,” Trump (whether he knows it or not) echoes Josef Stalin and other despots.

But it’s an effective strategy. Such attacks are politically expedient at a moment when trust in the news media is as low as it’s ever been, according to Gallup. And they’re especially resonant with Trump’s supporters, many of whom see journalists as part of the swamp that needs to be drained.

Trump has been criticized many times before for his attacks on the news media. I included some examples here, including criticism from Fox for the benefit of those who prefer that source, here, and here.

Earlier in the week, The Los Angeles Times criticized the dishonesty of Donald Trump and his authoritarian tendencies.

Even many on the right see how terrible a president Donald Trump is. For example, Jonah Goldberg writes, “the problem is Trump’s personality. His presidency doesn’t suffer from a failure of ideas, but a failure of character.”

Republicans are likely to pay a political price for the presidency of Donald Trump. Jonathan Chait has written about how Donald Trump will do far more harm to the Republican Party than if Hillary Clinton would have won.

Imagine what the political world would look like for Republicans had Hillary Clinton won the election. Clinton had dragged her dispirited base to the polls by promising a far more liberal domestic agenda than Barack Obama had delivered, but she would have had no means to enact it. As the first president in 28 years to take office without the benefit of a Congress in her own party’s hands, she’d have been staring at a dead-on-arrival legislative agenda, all the low-hanging executive orders having already been picked by her predecessor, and years of scandalmongering hearings already teed up. The morale of the Democratic base, which had barely tolerated the compromises of the Obama era and already fallen into mutual recriminations by 2016, would have disintegrated altogether. The 2018 midterms would be a Republican bloodbath, with a Senate map promising enormous gains to the Republican Party, which would go into the 2020 elections having learned the lessons of Trump’s defeat and staring at full control of government with, potentially, a filibuster-proof Senate majority.

Instead, Republicans under Trump are on the verge of catastrophe. Yes, they are about to gain a Supreme Court justice, no small thing, a host of federal judges, and a wide array of deregulation. Yet they are saddled with not only the most unpopular president at this point in time in the history of polling, but the potential for a partywide collapse, the contours of which they have not yet imagined. The failure of the Republican health-care initiative was a sobering moment, when their early, giddy visions of the possibilities of full party control of government gave way to an ugly reality of dysfunction, splayed against the not-so-distant backdrop of a roiled Democratic voting base. They have ratcheted back their expectations. But they have not ratcheted them far enough. By the time President Trump has left the scene, what now looks like a shambolic beginning, a stumbling out of the gate, will probably feel like the good old days.

The converse is also true. Democrats are in a position to be far more successful than they would be if faced with having to defend a triangulating Hillary Clinton in the White House, who very likely would have been more successful than Donald Trump in moving the country to the right. Rather than facing inevitable loses in Congress and in the states, Democrats now have a shot at retaking the House, especially if they present a clear alternative to the Republicans, as opposed to running again as a Republican-lite party.

The Authoritarianism Of Donald Trump

The Los Angeles Times has posted the third in a four part series criticizing Donald Trump. (Update: It now appears to be a six part series.) Yesterday I pointed out the first two parts on Our Dishonest President and Why Trump Lies. Part three is on Trump’s Authoritarian Vision. They started with the authoritarian mindset behind Trump’s campaign promises to unilaterally fix everything:

To Trump’s faithful, those words were a rallying cry. But his critics heard something far more menacing in them: a dangerously authoritarian vision of the presidency — one that would crop up time and again as he talked about overruling generals, disregarding international law, ordering soldiers to commit war crimes, jailing his opponent.

Trump has no experience in politics; he’s never previously run for office or held a government position. So perhaps he was unaware that one of the hallmarks of the American system of government is that the president’s power to “fix” things unilaterally is constrained by an array of strong institutions — including the courts, the media, the permanent federal bureaucracy and Congress. Combined, they provide an essential defense against an imperial presidency.

Yet in his first weeks at the White House, President Trump has already sought to undermine many of those institutions. Those that have displayed the temerity to throw some hurdle in the way of a Trump objective have quickly felt the heat.

Consider Trump’s feud with the courts.

He has repeatedly questioned the impartiality and the motives of judges. For example, he attacked the jurists who ruled against his order excluding travelers from seven majority Muslim nations, calling one a “so-called judge” and later tweeting: “Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!”

It’s nothing new for presidents to disagree with court decisions. But Trump’s direct, personal attacks on judges’ integrity and on the legitimacy of the judicial system itself — and his irresponsible suggestion that the judiciary should be blamed for future terrorist attacks — go farther. They aim to undermine public faith in the third branch of government.

The courts are the last line of defense for the Constitution and the rule of law; that’s what makes them such a powerful buffer against an authoritarian leader. The president of the United States should understand that and respect it.

The article went on to discuss other institutions under attack by Trump:

  • The electoral process
  • The intelligence community
  • The media
  • Federal agencies

They concluded with a look at the checks on presidential power, wondering if they will be enough:

Trump betrays no sense for the president’s place among the myriad of institutions in the continuum of governance. He seems willing to violate long-established political norms without a second thought, and he cavalierly rejects the civility and deference that allow the system to run smoothly. He sees himself as not merely a force for change, but as a wrecking ball.

Will Congress act as a check on Trump’s worst impulses as he moves forward? One test is the House and Senate intelligence committees’ investigation into Russia’s meddling in the presidential election; lawmakers need to muster the courage to follow the trail wherever it leads. Can the courts stand up to Trump? Already, several federal judges have issued rulings against the president’s travel ban. And although Trump has railed against the decisions, he has obeyed them.

None of these institutions are eager to cede authority to the White House and they won’t do so without a fight. It would be unrealistic to suggest that America’s most basic democratic institutions are in imminent jeopardy.

But we should not view them as invulnerable either. Remember that Trump’s verbal assaults are directed at the public, and are designed to chip away at people’s confidence in these institutions and deprive them of their validity. When a dispute arises, whose actions are you going to consider legitimate? Whom are you going to trust? That’s why the public has to be wary of Trump’s attacks on the courts, the “deep state,” the “swamp.” We can’t afford to be talked into losing our faith in the forces that protect us from an imperial presidency.

These criticisms of Donald Trump are very similar to those I quoted a few weeks ago from Brian Klaas, a fellow in comparative politics at the London School of Economics, and author of The Despot’s Accomplice: How the West is Aiding and Abetting the Decline of Democracy. I have also discussed the increased interest in dystopian novels about falling into authoritarianism, including warnings from Philip Roth.

While Trump is not the only threat to liberty on the political scene, at least Trump is blatant in his attacks, and there is wide-spread understanding of the threat he presents. This has helped to mobilize opposition to him very early in his term.