As Trump hostility to Mueller’s investigation heats up, can he actually shut it down? On Politics And Polls, I talk to Fordham Law professor an...
The Authoritarian Checklist – John Brennan / Peter Strzok update, August 2018
John Brennan’s public service:
-CIA station chief in Saudi Arabia
-CIA chief of staff
-Director of Terrorist Threat Integration Center
-Director of National Counter terrorism Center
-White House Homeland Security Adviser
-Briefed three presidents
— Philip Rucker (@PhilipRucker) August 15, 2018
I’ve left this topic alone for some time, but we must revisit it every time one of the items is checked off in a major way. On August 15, 2018, it’s Trump’s targeting of government officials Peter Strzok at the FBI and former CIA director John Brennan. Those enlarge the list of offenses under item #5 below.
In January 2017, shortly after the Inauguration, I provided a ten-item checklist of actions that would be signs of authoritarianism. I provided this in advance of any actions that could happen. Then I updated the list in May 2017.
Since that time, many actions have been repeated; some people may have become desensitized. Strikingly, it appears that President Trump still has levels of support above 80% from voters in his own party. Truly, the Republican Party, once the party of Eisenhower or Reagan, has become the party of Trump.
In 2017 I said that the judiciary acted as an institutional check on executive power. That is now in question, now that the Supreme Court has upheld the Muslim ban in the Trump v. Hawaii decision. And the President, while he is under investigation, appears ready to appoint a second member of the Supreme Court.
In this updated version of the checklist, we are at a score of six out of ten. For these six items, I have not documented repeated instances of the action. Feel free to lay out the evidence for your favorite offense in comments. The shootings in Annapolis may qualify as a seventh item, incitement of violence against individuals.
Finally, I leave out the degree of competence with which each action was done. This is important, since some degree of competence is essential for authoritarian rule to take hold. The current Administration seems particularly maladroit. But it is also setting a tone that may persist until a more competent officeholder holds power.
The Authoritarian Checklist, 2018
- Taking sides with a foreign power against domestic opposition. This one’s obvious. Russia over G-7 and NATO, North Korea over the U.S. foreign policy establishment. YES
- Detention of journalists. Hasn’t happened systematically.
- Loss of press access to the White House. Access is reduced substantially; press briefings consist of a river of lies that is something to behold. Over time, more assertive reporters such as Jorge Ramos, Jim Acosta, Kaitlan Collins have been tossed out. YES
- Made-up charges against those who disagree with the government. The writing was on the wall with “Lock her up!” The link goes to a frank falsification, the claim of widespread voter fraud. YES
- Use of governmental power to target individual citizens for retribution. It began with prosecuting leakers rather than the leaked offense. Immigrants and their children, who are citizens, have been targeted after they spoke out. And now, government officials are being targeted for doing their jobs (Peter Strzok) or speaking their minds on matters of national importance (John Brennan). 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. Muslims and Hispanics. 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. Trump repeatedly refers to the press as corrupt and lying. His most vocal supporters echo these sentiments. And now, five people have been killed in a newsroom in Annapolis. We’ll see what the motives were, but it’s not looking great at the moment. Then there are other verbal attacks, for instance on women officeholders, especially African-Americans. PROBABLE
- 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. In the end, it didn’t happen. However, judging from the ruling on the Muslim ban, it seems clear that the Supreme Court is potentially not that much of a check. Hard to score this one as a yes. But it’s less necessary if courts cooperate with questionable actions.