The Los Angeles Times has published the third editorial in a series explaining why the Editorial Board strongly disapproves for Donald Trump’s presidency. The first was an overview of Trump’s abysmal time in office and the second focused exclusively on Trump’s chronic lying.
Today’s editorial is all about Trump’s authoritarian impulses. The editors begin by explaining how the very foundation of Trump’s 2016 campaign was a set up for authoritarian rule from the White House.
[Trump] swooped into politics, he declared, to subvert the powerful and rescue those who cannot defend themselves. “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.”
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.
The editors detail Trump’s feuds with the judiciary branch of government, branch which is supposed to provide a serious check on the executive branch based in the White House.
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 editors continue to highlight four other institutions crucial for a healthy democracy that Trump is fighting against and threatening to undermine. First, is the most basic part of a democracy: free, fair elections. Trump has worked to erode faith in America’s elections by repeatedly claiming that Hillary Clinton rallied an army of fraudsters that cast around 3 million illegal votes.
In a democracy, the right to vote is the one check that the people themselves hold against their leaders; sowing distrust in elections is the kind of thing leaders do when they don’t want their power checked.
Second, Trump has fought to question the legitimacy of the intelligence services.
The administration has continued to belittle the intelligence community and question its motives since then, while also leaking stories about possibly paring and restructuring its ranks. … It’s unnerving too, given the intelligence services’ crucial role in protecting the country against hidden risks, assisting the U.S. military and helping inform Trump’s decisions.
Third, Trump has launched a war against the media, trying to convince the American people to believe “alternative facts” (lies) dispensed through his Twitter account instead of actual journalism. Trump is also threatening to crack down on unfavorable coverage of his presidency, a threat which is textbook authoritarianism.
In February he said that the “fake news” media will “never represent the people,” adding ominously: “And we’re going to do something about it.”
Fourth, Trump is undermining the agencies of federal government, consolidating all power with himself and stopping departments from intervening in his agenda with pesky research and facts.
In addition to calling for agency budgets to be chopped by up to 30%, Trump appointed a string of Cabinet secretaries who were hostile to much of their agencies’ missions and the laws they’re responsible for enforcing. He has also proposed deep cuts in federal research programs, particularly in those related to climate change. It’s easier to argue that climate change isn’t real when you’re no longer collecting the data that documents it.
Many politicians, and even presidents, have clashed with various institutions in the past. It is a normal part of working in a government with a strong system of checks and balances. But Trump’s clashes are far from normal.
It’s one thing to complain about a judicial decision or to argue for less regulation, but to the extent that Trump weakens public trust in essential institutions like the courts and the media, he undermines faith in democracy and in the system and processes that make it work.
The editors conclude with an astute assessment about the risks of Trump’s four years in office (if he makes it that far without being impeached or forced to resign).
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?
So far Trump’s presidency is not the end of the world, nor is it the end of America. But we must keep the resistance going to keep our democracy strong and healthy for generations to come.
Marisa completed her undergraduate degree in 2013 at the University of Wisconsin with a double major in creative writing and media studies. She is an advocate of progressive policies and focuses her interests on gender equality and preventing sexual and domestic violence.