Trump’s Threat to Democracy – by Nicholas Kristof- NYT

“Two political scientists specializing in how democracies decay and die have compiled four warning signs to determine if a political leader is a dangerous authoritarian:1. The leader shows only a weak commitment to democratic rules. 2. He or she denies the legitimacy of opponents. 3. He or she tolerates violence. 4. He or she shows some willingness to curb civil liberties or the media.“A politician who meets even one of these criteria is cause for concern,” Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, both professors at Harvard, write in their important new book, “How Democracies Die,” which will be released next week.

“With the exception of Richard Nixon, no major-party presidential candidate met even one of these four criteria over the last century,” they say, which sounds reassuring. Unfortunately, they have one update: “Donald Trump met them all.” ”

Yes. Here is the top comment I endorse:
Mike Roddy is a trusted commenter Alameda, Ca 2 hours ago
I spent a couple of years in Venezuela early in Chavez, reign, and saw the country’s decline up close. Included was utter corruption, even by South American standards, and a President who reflexively lied to the public during eight hour speeches on TV every Sunday.

The Venezuelans laughed at him and shrugged their shoulders, knowing that the elections were rigged and they were helpless. American left wingers didn’t do their homework, and somehow believed his schtick.

The lesson here is that we cannot underestimate the president, for many reasons.

1. Trump won’t decide to follow democratic norms, since he comes from a real estate background that included bribery, partnerships with criminals, and refusals to honor contracts.
2. Strengthening democratic norms is wise, but our attacks on the President must be blunt and relentless. This is not just another blowhard, but rather a dangerous, and murderous, potential dictator.
3. How can someone be expected to obey democratic norms when he doesn’t even know the words to the national anthem?
4. This is the most important: The oligarchs who back Trump- Mercer, Adelson, Koch, and the entire fossil fuel industry- also don’t care about democracy. They are waist deep in global bribery and environmental carnage. The press has been negligent in rarely making those connections. Many of Trump’s staffing decisions were dictated by them.

Your turn, New York Times. You’ve been OK so far (apart from ignoring #4), but without you we lose.

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Everyone in Trumpworld Knows He’s an Idiot – by Michelle Goldberg – NYT

DL: Michelle Goldberg is the newest young voice to join the NYT op-ed page as a regular. What a well written piece. I couldn’t recommend any of the top comments to this essay, since they refused to even acknowledge the gifted writer which provided the platform for their add ons, mostly a pile on.

I finally got to reading my new subscription to the Wall Street Journal the other day, and was disappointed at how hateful, scornful and arrogant the lead editorial was against the Democrats, using fake news to attack the Trump administration. The polarization between the parties is the worst I’ve seen in my lifetime, and over the Vietnam war, it was ferocious.

“Trumpworld” might be misleading. It refers to his White house senior staff, cabinet and senior advisors.

“One of the more alarming anecdotes in “Fire and Fury,” Michael Wolff’s incendiary new book about Donald Trump’s White House, involves the firing of James Comey, former director of the F.B.I. It’s not Trump’s motives that are scary; Wolff reports that Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner were “increasingly panicked” and “frenzied” about what Comey would find if he looked into the family finances, which is incriminating but unsurprising. The terrifying part is how, in Wolff’s telling, Trump sneaked around his aides, some of whom thought they’d contained him.

“For most of the day, almost no one would know that he had decided to take matters into his own hands,” Wolff writes. “In presidential annals, the firing of F.B.I. director James Comey may be the most consequential move ever made by a modern president acting entirely on his own.” Now imagine Trump taking the same approach toward ordering the bombing of North Korea.

Wolff’s scabrous book comes out on Friday — the publication date was moved up amid a media furor — but I was able to get an advance copy. It’s already a consequential work, having precipitated a furious rift between the president and his former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, who told Wolff that the meeting Donald Trump Jr. brokered with Russians in the hope of getting dirt on Hillary Clinton was “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.” On Thursday the president’s lawyers sent a cease-and-desist letter to Wolff’s publisher, Henry Holt, demanding that it stop publication, claiming, among other things, defamation and invasion of privacy. This move would be fascistic if it weren’t so farcical. (While some have raised questions about Wolff’s methods, Axios reports that he has many hours of interviews recorded.)”

The Meaning of Bannon vs. Trump – by David Leonhardt – NYT

“Two quick thoughts on the Steve Bannon-President Trump feud:One, it’s a sign of the apparent seriousness of the Russia investigation for Trump’s family and inner circle. The insults got the attention, but the more significant part of Bannon’s remarks may be the “logical, cold-eyed recognition” that prosecutors are building a powerful case, notes Errol Louis at CNN.

Two, the feud is a reminder that Bannon has failed to accomplish his biggest ambition: Expanding the Republican coalition to include many more middle-class and working-class voters. “Steve Bannon had a chance to be a genuinely significant figure in American politics and he blew it,” my colleague Ross Douthat wrote on Twitter.

Democracy. Later this month, an alarmingly titled book, “How Democracies Die,” written by two political scientists, will be published. It is, as the book’s promotional material states, “a bracing, revelatory look at the demise of liberal democracies around the world — and a road map for rescuing our own.”

That last part seems the most important. I remain optimistic that the Trump presidency will turn out to be a phase rather than a turning point in American history. But it would be foolish to dismiss the threats to our system of government. They’re greater than I ever expected to see.

Trump’s Attention Economy – by Charles Blow – NYT

“On Tuesday, Donald Trump unleashed yet another tweet storm from within his unceasing drought of competence.

In a series of 16 tweets, Trump lied, boasted, lashed out, bemoaned, provoked, belittled and prodded.In other words, Trump began this year the way he ended the last one: eroding and reducing the office of the presidency on a daily basis.His most consequential tweet was a boast about destructive power:“North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.’ Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”

Sir, this is not a missile-measuring contest. No one wants to think about the size of your button. You seem to think that the effects of a nuclear strike would be the verification of your virility rather than the loss of innumerable lives.”

Good column and comments. Here is my favorite comment, of the 10 or 15 I read.

Cathy Hopewell junction ny 6 hours ago
We are watching Trump jettison the people who coached him into power, and to try to contain an investigation into the lives of the people he has not yet fired. He exposed his family to harm, by giving them roles they don’t understand in a game they don’t know how to play. And it looks like the Russians, who do know how to play the game, are winning.

And the rest of us suffer. I now understand how it feels to be the hero in a Greek tragedy, who suffers at the hands of capricious gods, for no real reason at all, except that they felt the hero got too uppity. Government is something inflicted upon us, and we can take the consequences, or turn ourselves into laurel trees.

And it is important to understand, if Greek tragedy is our model, not to depend on Mueller to be our Deus Ex Machina, Gods never descend to save the day until it is too late.

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Yes- the President Can Obstruct Justice – The New York Times

“You know you have a problem when you’ve been president for less than 11 months and you’re already relying on Richard Nixon’s definition of what’s legal.

On Monday morning, Axios reported that Mr. Trump’s top personal lawyer, John Dowd, said in an interview that the “president cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer” under the Constitution and “has every right to express his view of any case.”This will come as news to Congress, which has passed laws criminalizing the obstruction of justice and decided twice in the last four decades that when a president violates those laws he has committed an impeachable offense.

In 1974, the first article of impeachment drafted by the House of Representatives charged President Nixon with “interfering or endeavoring to interfere with the conduct of investigations by the Department of Justice of the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the office of Watergate Special Prosecution Force.”A quarter-century later, President Bill Clinton was impeached by the House for, among other things, having “prevented, obstructed and impeded the administration of justice” and for having “engaged personally, and through his subordinates and agents, in a course of conduct or scheme designed to delay, impede, cover up and conceal the existence of evidence and testimony.” ”

DL: Yes, thank you.
Here are some excellent comments, just a few of many.

Bruce Rozenblit is a trusted commenter Kansas City, MO 15 hours ago
If this is the best defense Trump’s lawyer can come up with, then Trump should get another lawyer.

This is a non-defense defense. It is an idiotic circular argument. It’s the kind of thing a person would expect Hannity to say.

Due to the weakness of this strategy, logic can only lead to the conclusion that Trump has no defense.

I don’t like to deify the founding fathers as many do. They were mere mortals like all of us. But they did the modern world a tremendous service when they set our government up with three branches of equal power. One is hopelessly corrupt, one is bought and paid for and so far at least one, the judiciary still functions. If that branch collapses under the weight of partisan politics, we are done.

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TWR New York 16 hours ago
We are the heirs of Magna Carta upon which the founders of our American republic established our constitutional democracy. Magna Carta has not only been been invoked on the floor of the U.S. Senate in response to executive overreach but also cited as legally authoritative precedent in decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court. If nothing else, it stands for the principle that in Anglo-American jurisprudence and governance that “the sovereign is not above the law.” Are we now willing to allow a president to assert that he, like Louis XIV, is the state and above the law? Heaven help us if our democratic institutions agree with him.
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is a trusted commenter Massachusetts 15 hours ago

“You cannot charge a president with obstruction of justice for exercising his constitutional power to fire Comey and to tell the Justice Department who to investigate and who not to investigate.”

This from Alan Dershowitz whose tenured spot at Harvard Law seems to have gone to his head.

No, I’m not a lawyer, but I do know why the US fought a revolution. I also know the founders were laser focused on creating a system of 3 branches of government, with checks and balances to keep any one person from acting like a king.

If Donald Trump could instruct Justice who to investigate –or not–he’d exercise the unchecked power of a king who not only administers laws, but makes them too.

I recently heard a lawyer frame it another way: the President only supervises judicial processes, not judicial content.

Frankly, I think Trump’s lawyers are all crackpots. One’s job seems to be to tell him fairy stories to calm him down before bed. Another’s is to go on TV, gesticulate wildly, and argue with pundits, sounding increasingly incoherent. The third who wrote the tweet has been videotaped cursing and making obscene gestures to reporters as he exits court after losing a case.

Maybe if Donald Trump paid these guys more, he’d have better counsel, at least lawyers who would tell him he isn’t a king.

Or a dictator, no matter how much Donald Trump tries to act like one.


Massachusetts 11 hours ago

The claim is that the president is the nation’s highest ranking law enforcement officer and has the constitutional authority to supervise and control the executive branch and can make decisions about what law enforcement actions will be pursued, without any checks on that power. This is tantamount to saying that the President is above the law.

That, my friends, is called a dictatorship.


Don’t Prosecute Trump. Impeach Him. – By JOHN YOO and SAIKRISHNA PRAKASH

“A wayward tweet on Saturday has set off renewed accusations that President Trump obstructed justice by impeding the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections.The known facts are too weak to support any federal prosecution, not to mention one as momentous as indicting a sitting president. But even if Mr. Trump did illegally conspire to improve relations with Russia, his critics are pursuing their quarry down the wrong path. Impeachment — not criminal prosecution — is the tool for a corrupt sitting president.”

David Lindsay: What is that smell, I think it’s bullshit. Someone, please help me figure out what I am smelling?
Help is near. Bless the top commentators, for clarifying several complex issues. I endorsed all the following comments.

Rdeannyc is a trusted commenter Amherst MA 14 hours ago
The authors are probably correct that a sitting President cannot successfully be indicted. Yet, it is odd that they pit that prediction against the alternative of impeachment (which they recommend) at this point in time, since an indictment of Mr. Trump — even if moot as such — would not preclude subsequent impeachment proceedings. Odd, of course, because as the Times FAILS to note, Mr. Yoo once served in the White House counsel under President Bush, and wrote legal arguments defending waterboarding. Could it be that Mr. Yoo doesn’t like the idea that the Executive might be held accountable through a criminal investigation? And that he prefers the idea of a political opinion — as rendered by Congress — as the means of determining “corruption?”

Reply 471 Recommended

Look Ahead is a trusted commenter WA 14 hours ago
Unlike John Yoo, I am no legal expert. But also unlike Mr Yoo, I didn’t write the “Torture Memos” which have posed an extreme hazard to US military and diplomatic personnel serving in foreign countries.

We need to proceed with all available options for moving Trump and his parasitic family business clan out of the White House. Since he is harboring the delusion (among many others) that he already has a lock on the 2020 election, we can’t expect Trump to resign like Nixon.

But Trump is clearly more of a liability to the GOP brand where he is. And he is also a Right Wing White Nationalist fantasy. As much as I hate to see all of the destruction to America’s values, justice system and international leadership in the short term, it may actually stimulate the policy debate we should have had in 2016 but didn’t. (thanks to Matt Lauer and others).

And Trump is probably the best voter turnout weapon the Democrats have seen since Herbert Hoover. If we can at least keep Trump around until the 2018 midterms, we might inspire a wave of Millennials and women to show up, which could flip both State and Federal offices.

So tweet away, Mr President, tweet away!

Reply 424 Recommended

NYT Pick
Douglas Evans San Francisco 12 hours ago
The title of this article belies a fundamental misunderstanding of our system of government. The President has immunity from prosecution in order to maintain a separation of powers between the judiciary and the executive branches. It takes an act of the legislative branch to revoke that immunity. That’s called “impeachment.” A trial (“prosecution”) necessarily follows, in the Senate with the Chief Justice presiding. If convicted, the President is removed from office and may be sentenced for his offenses.

In other words, it’s not either/or, it’s impeachment => prosecution.

Reply 329 Recommended
Julie Sattazahn Playa del Rey, CA 12 hours ago
The founders clearly never imagined a president who lies like he breathes, enriches his businesses while in office and is a con artist. They also didn’t factor in a Congress with no scruples about this.
It’s not a question of one political party/ideology vs another.
It’s basic decency and love of our country vs the blatant opposite, happening before our eyes.

Reply 305 Recommended

Richard Luettgen is a trusted commenter New Jersey 12 hours ago
The authors really argue for doing nothing at all. Now, I admit that I have some sympathy for that argument, but I don’t like to have my intelligence insulted.

They argue fastidiously for not seeking an indictment, preferring impeachment of Trump. You can almost smell the legal wood burning in capacious brains as they expound their arguments. But the truth is that this House has absolutely no political incentive to impeach Donald Trump, and this Senate no political incentive to convict him on impeachment articles. So, if you buy the author of waterboarding’s legal justification that an indictment can’t happen, and you recognize that, absent a smoking gun proving that Trump IS the Grinch that stole Christmas, Congress will NOT impeach and remove Trump … then you’re really arguing for doing nothing.

But I suppose that Democrats can always seek to waterboard Trump – because Mr. Yoo told us it’s lawful.

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Time to Talk Impeachment – by David Leonhardt – NYT

“A few weeks ago, I read a short new book by the legal scholar Cass Sunstein titled, simply, “Impeachment.” The book doesn’t mention President Trump once. Sunstein started writing it, he told me, partly because he was alarmed by what he considered reckless talk of impeachment during Trump’s first weeks on the job, before he had started doing much.

Sunstein’s goal was to lay out a legal and historical framework for thinking about impeachment, independent of any specific president. I’ve been thinking about the topic a lot since finishing the book, and I want to recommend both Sunstein’s book and a Vox piece published this morning by Ezra Klein.

To be clear, I think it would be a mistake for Democrats to put much energy into impeachment right now, because it’s not going to happen: Republicans control Congress and show no interest.But I also think it would be a mistake for Americans — regardless of party — to be in denial about the governing crisis our country is facing. Let’s admit it: Trump is behaving in ways that call for serious talk of impeachment. If you read Sunstein’s careful history of impeachment — of when the founders believed it was appropriate and necessary — I expect you will come to the same conclusion.”

Robert Mueller in the Cross Hairs – by NIcholas Kristof – NYT

“We may shortly be facing a national crisis. President Trump’s base is egging him on to undertake his own “Saturday Night Massacre” and fire Robert Mueller for committing … for committing … uh, well, for working too hard as a prosecutor.

On Fox News, the host Jeanine Pirro proposed firing Mueller, blaming the Democrats, and imprisoning Hillary Clinton. Speaking of the Mueller investigation, Pirro said, “It’s time to shut it down, turn the tables, and lock her up.”Wow. I’ve reported from tin-pot countries where public figures talk blithely of shutting down prosecutors and imprisoning rivals. I never thought I’d live in one.

Lou Dobbs of Fox Business Network denounced Mueller’s “gross overreach,” and the pro-Trump site Gateway Pundit excoriated “deep state crooked cop Robert Mueller.” Across the right wing, ideological snipers are taking potshots at Mueller, and even The Wall Street Journal has suggested in an editorial that Mueller resign.

All this amounts to a perilous pirouette. After all, Mueller was last known to be a registered Republican and was appointed F.B.I. director by a Republican president, George W. Bush. Newt Gingrich reflected the G.O.P. consensus when he wrote in a May tweet: “Robert Mueller is superb choice to be special counsel. His reputation is impeccable for honesty and integrity.”

Good Grief. What are we coming to?

Democrats Should Embrace Impeachment – by Michelle Goldberg – NYT

“Last week, Tom Steyer, the billionaire progressive donor, announced a $10 million campaign calling for President Trump’s impeachment, beginning with a television commercial running in all 50 states. Trump, the spot says, has “brought us to the brink of nuclear war, obstructed justice at the F.B.I., and in direct violation of the Constitution, he’s taken money from foreign governments and threatened to shut down news organizations that report the truth.” Appearing on screen, Steyer asks, “If that isn’t a case for impeaching and removing a dangerous president, then what has our government become?”

It’s a good question. Yet while most elected Democrats probably agree that Trump’s presidency is a nightmare, they’ve been largely reluctant to use the “I” word. The base wants impeachment — according to an August survey from the Public Religion Research Institute, 72 percent of Democrats support efforts to remove Trump from office. But inside the Beltway, calling for impeachment remains strangely taboo.Some members of Congress are awaiting the results of the investigation being conducted by Robert Mueller, the special counsel, and the case for impeachment may become stronger when his inquiry is complete. Yet whatever Mueller discovers, we have credible reasons for impeachment right now. The Constitution dictates that presidents be impeached for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

But as the Harvard Law scholar Cass Sunstein, author of the recent book “Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide,” told me, that doesn’t mean Congress can impeach only a president who is caught breaking the law. “Crime is neither necessary nor sufficient,” said Sunstein, who emphasizes that his book is not about Trump. “If the president went on vacation in Madagascar for six months, that’s not a crime, but that’s impeachable.”


David Lindsay: I do not agree. Foes of Trumpism have to win back the congress first.

Here is a comment I apprpve:

ChristineMcM is a trusted commenter Massachusetts 19 hours ago

Michelle, I disagree with this, not on the merits of impeachment but on the timing. Yes, Hillary Clinton would have been impeached by now–likely just for being a woman, or for Benghazi, or for the hurricanes. But Dems have no power.

Look, nobody wants this monster gone more than I do. But I still feel impeachment (which only Congress can initiate) would be more credible with GOP support that’s currently lacking.

So, for me, it makes more sense for Mueller to complete his investigation, and for Democrats to pick up some seats.

Tom Steyer should stop throwing his money away, and use it to build up the party and get out the vote. There’s a time and a place for everything: now is not the time, because impeachment wouldn’t be weighed by the overabundance of its merits but dismissed as a partisan witch hunt.

Wouldn’t it also just lend credence to what our liar-in-chief has been saying for months, that the Dems are sore losers? The very last thing Democrats need to do right now is give Donald J. Trump more fodder to whip up his base.

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General Mattis- Stand Up to Trump or He’ll Drag You Down – by Thomas Friedman – NYT

“That leaves Mattis as the last man standing — the only one who has not been infected by Trump’s metastasizing ethical cancer, the only one who has not visibly lied on Trump’s behalf, and who can still put some fear into Trump.

Well, Secretary Mattis, here’s some free advice to the last man standing: Don’t just stand there. If you just stand there, you’ll be next. Because Trump and Sanders will be looking to enlist your old uniform next in their defense — that is, if Trump doesn’t throw you under the bus first to escape responsibility for the bungled operation in Niger.Secretary Mattis, we don’t need any more diagnosis of the problem. We need action. And I am not talking about a coup. I mean you need to lead McMaster, Tillerson and Kelly (Pompeo is a lost cause) in telling Trump that if he does not change his ways you will all quit, en masse.

Trump needs to know that it is now your way or the highway — not his. That is how you talk to a bully. It’s the only language he understands.Tell him: No more ridiculous tweeting attacks on people every morning; no more telling senators who forge bipartisan compromises on immigration or health care that he’s with them one day and against them the next; no more casual lying; no more feeding the base white supremacist “red meat” — no more distracting us from the real work of forging compromises for the American people and no more eroding the American creed.

Led by you and you only, Secretary Mattis, your little squadron with Tillerson, Kelly and McMaster still has power. And if you can’t together force Trump onto an agenda of national healing and progress, then you should together tell him that he can govern with his kids and Sanders — because you took an oath to defend the Constitution, not to wipe up Trump’s daily filth with the uniform three of you wore so honorably.”

David Lindsay:  I’m afraid I agree with Tom Friedman. I second this piece.