For what else is one to make of his scarcely surprising reduction yesterday of his June pledge — that he would be “100 percent” willing to meet with Special Counsel Bob Mueller to hash things out, clear things up, and conclusively put an end to all this silly talk of collusion. Full disclosure of his guiltlessness. A comprehensive defense turned convincing offense. An in-person, presidential shredding of unfounded allegations. Plus a vigorous, coordinated federal-state assault on any repetition of Russian meddling in U.S. elections. That’s what a competent annihilation of scurrilous talk of Trumpian wrongdoing would have required. Not that much, really, were he telling the truth about his innocence. All this silly chatter about collusion would have been over with months ago, had Trump simply opened up to this country — and then closed down Russia’s diabolical access to our democratic birthright.
On Trump’s part — again, were he telling the truth — a “100 percent” follow-through would have crushed those seemingly endless investigations. But 100 percent now means “I’ll speak to [my] attorneys” and “We’ll see what happens.” It means more Trumpian bombast on Twitter, such as yesterday’s: “The single greatest Witch Hunt in American history continues. There was no collusion, everybody including the Dems knows there was no collusion, & yet on and on it goes.” And it means, at press conferences, such as yesterday’s, even more rhetorical piffle from a little man who sounds enormously guilty: “It has been determined that there’s been no collusion — and by virtually everybody. When they have no collusion, and nobody’s found any collusion at any level, it seems unlikely that you’d even have an interview [with Mueller].”
In what alternate universe, as they say, is Trump living? Why, that of his base, of course, which is vastly clueless and dead set on remaining so. “Everybody including the Dems knows there was no collusion”? “It has been determined that there’s been no collusion” and “nobody’s found any collusion at any level”? Marinated, as they are, in Fox News’ obscurantist protections of a criminal presidency, Trump’s gormless base is oblivious to those factual realities otherwise reported: to wit, that “members of the Trump campaign interacted with Russians at least 31 times throughout the campaign”; “there are at least 19 known meetings”; and “knowledge of these communications went to the highest levels of Donald Trump’s operation — both Corey Lewandowski and Paul Manafort, two of the campaign’s three managers, were aware of [them].”
But what the hell … when your base believes that we found Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, that the Earth is 6,000 years old, and that climate change is also a “hoax” invented by the devious yellow horde so as to destroy the American economy, why not add that it has been determined, even by Tom Steyeresque Democrats, that there’s been no collusion. Our modern era of partisan cloistering and segregated media echo chambers and the enduring eras of base ignorance make the addition possible.
Which leads us to Nicholas Kristof’s column today, in which he calls on the work of two Harvard professors of government, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt — work to be published next week in How Democracies Die. The professors, writes Kristof, “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.” Write Levitsky and Ziblatt, “A politician who meets even one of these criteria is cause for concern. With the exception of Richard Nixon, no major-party presidential candidate met even one of these four criteria over the last century. Donald Trump met them all.”
He continues to meet them as president. Democratic norms and rules are, to him, disposable nuisances; opponents deserve only playground epithets; as for #3, one word — “Charlottesville”; and Trump’s willingness to curb the mainstream media by declaring it “the enemy of the American people” is as authoritarian, in spirit, as busting up presses.
Given all that, is it a struggle to imagine that Mr. Trump will, in the end, create a constitutional crisis by telling Mr. Mueller where he can put his investigative questions? Does the democratic rule of law mean much to Trump? Does Mueller’s legitimacy mean anything to Trump or his congressional (now) co-conspirators? Or to his (at least) emotionally violent base? And would Trump not happily and further exploit, among that base and congressional hacks, his propagandistic war on the mainstream media? — which would blow its top, were Trump to tell Mueller where to get off.
Then there’s the associated question: Why not simply fire the special counsel? — which, in one violent pounce, would fulfill all four “warning signs” of a “dangerous authoritarian.”
My guess: The one illegal methodology or the other is in store for us, courtesy the conspicuously culpable, eminently indictable, miserably authoritarian Trump. Buckle up.
By Smirking Chimp