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Authoritarian Government Watch – Update
Trump to NBC: “When I decided to [fire Comey], I said to myself, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story.”
— Philip Rucker (@PhilipRucker) May 11, 2017
On January 28th, I came up with 10 events that, if they happened, would constitute evidence of an authoritarian government. Now it’s the fourth month. As the Administration becomes engulfed by the growing Russia scandal and possible obstruction of justice by Trump himself, how are they coming along on the authoritarian front?
Actually…not that bad. At the one-month mark, I estimated that the Administration had committed or attempted six out of ten of the acts. This week’s news, in which Trump fired FBI director James Comey for investigating ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, has cemented #1 and #8. However, on the good side, some other items have subsided somewhat. Overall, I’d score things at five out of ten and holding.
What’s going on? It appears that the pattern of malevolence tempered by incompetence has held back the worst offenses. And the judiciary has held up well as an institutional check on executive power.
This pattern extends not only to authoritarianism, but other domains as well. It’s been tough for the Administration to make progress in domestic policy, perhaps due to Trump’s lack of knowledge or attention span. A recent interview reveals the depth of this ignorance, as dissected by Matt Yglesias. In complete contrast to Trump’s budget request, the federal budget deal was a bipartisan agreement: virtually no cuts to EPA, increases in military spending and biomedical research, and preservation of pretty much everything else. The passage of an AHCA bill out of the House was an unexpected victory, but I have a feeling that the expanding Trump/Russia scandal is going to slow that down.
Still, the list below is worth keeping in mind. One international incident, one domestic emergency, and it’s quite possible that the roaring parade of scandal might be forgotten by our brilliant television media.
The Authoritarian Checklist, 2017
- Taking sides with a foreign power against domestic opposition. This one’s obvious. YES
- Detention of journalists. Hasn’t happened systematically…though there might have been a recent instance.
- Loss of press access to the White House. Subsided. Access seems okay, but the river of lies is something to behold.
- Made-up charges against those who disagree with the government. YES
- Use of governmental power to target individual citizens for retribution. YES
- Use of a terrorist incident or an international incident to take away civil liberties. Not yet.
- Persecution of an ethnic or religious minority, either by the Administration or its supporters. YES
- Removal of civil service employees for insufficient loyalty or membership in a suspect group (e.g. LGBT, Muslim, and other groups). (2/16: also the intelligence community). And now, the firing of FBI director James Comey…though really, this is more in the category of obstruction of justice. YES
- Use of the Presidency to incite popular violence against individuals or organizations.
- Defying the orders of courts, including the Supreme Court. Looked like it was going to happen, and certainly he’s fulminated about disbanding an appeals court, but…not yet.