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Donald Trump, it turns out, may have been the best thing that could have happened to American democracy.
No, I haven’t lost my mind. Individual-1 is clearly a wannabe dictator who has contempt for the rule of law, not to mention being corrupt and probably in the pocket of foreign powers. But he’s also lazy, undisciplined, self-absorbed and inept. And since the threat to democracy is much broader and deeper than one man, we’re actually fortunate that the forces menacing America have such a ludicrous person as their public face.
Yet those forces may prevail all the same.
If you want to understand what’s happening to our country, the book you really need to read is “How Democracies Die,” by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. As the authors — professors of government at Harvard — point out, in recent decades a number of nominally democratic nations have become de facto authoritarian, one-party states. Yet none of them have had classic military coups, with tanks in the street.
What we’ve seen instead are coups of a subtler form: takeovers or intimidation of the news media, rigged elections that disenfranchise opposing voters, new rules of the game that give the ruling party overwhelming control even if it loses the popular vote, corrupted courts.
President Trump was up early Monday morning, tweeting falsely that investigators have found “No Smocking Gun” that proves he did anything wrong. He meant “smoking,” of course. His vision must be clouded by the haze.
In a sentencing memorandum for the president’s one-time personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, federal prosecutors in Manhattan wrote on Friday that Cohen violated campaign finance laws “in coordination with and at the direction of” Trump. In layman’s terms, the president’s own Justice Department has accused him of instructing his lawyer to commit two felonies.
These crimes, to which Cohen confesses, involve six-figure payments of hush money to both Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels — women whose silence about alleged sexual encounters with Trump was expensively purchased during the weeks before the 2016 election.
On Twitter, the president called all of this “a simple private transaction.” I am tempted to ask what he’s been “smocking.”
“I am a Tariff Man,” Trump tweeted last week. “When people or countries come in to raid the great wealth of our Nation, I want them to pay for the privilege of doing so…. We are right now taking in $billions in Tariffs. MAKE AMERICA RICH AGAIN.”
I’m sorry, Mr President, but you got this wrong. Tariffs are paid by American consumers. About half the $200bn worth of goods you’ve already put tariffs on come almost exclusively from China, which means American consumers are taking a hit this holiday season.
These tariffs function exactly like taxes. By imposing them, you have in effect raised taxes on most Americans. You have made Americans poorer.
Worse yet, they’re regressive. The middle class and poor pay a larger percentage of their incomes on these tariffs than do the rich.
It is very possible that the president of the United States is a criminal. And it is very possible that his criminality aided and abetted his assumption of the position. Let that sink in. It is a profound revelation.
Last week, prosecutors made clear in a sentencing memo for Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, that Trump himself had directed Cohen to break campaign finance laws.
Yes, there is still information dribbling out about Trump’s efforts to build a tower in Moscow during the election and about his campaign’s ties with Russians during the campaign. Yes, there is the question of obstruction of justice, which I believe has already beeFor a party that claims to be “tough on crime,” Republicans seem pretty confused by what it means to hold criminals to account.
Particularly when it comes to white-collar crimes, or really any crimes committed by rich people.
On Friday, for instance, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) argued that President Trump should pardon his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who has been convicted of eight felonies and pleaded guilty to another two.
“If Manafort was going to be prosecuted as a consequence of his tax crimes or lobbying crimes, that would have happened more than a decade ago,” Gaetz said on Fox News, adding on Twitter, “The only reason he was prosecuted is because of politics.”
Joseph diGenova, a former Reagan-appointed federal prosecutor and now frequent Trump surrogate, likewise has suggested that Manafort should not have been prosecuted because he had “no criminal record.”
By this logic, absent an extant criminal record, no one — not even pre-prosecution Al Capone — should ever get charged with a crime. Never having been in jail becomes a Get Out of Jail Free card.
n proven by Trump’s own actions in public. Yes, there are all the people in Trump’s circle who have been charged with or have admitted to lying about any number of things, including their contacts with Russians.
But beyond all that, we now have an actual, and one assumes provable, crime. A federal crime. And the president is its architect.