Is a battle of Trump vs the US Constitution looming?
Kevin Rafferty says the Trump presidency is becoming a law unto itself. His attack on the integrity of America’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies, especially, raises worry that he may try to thwart the FBI investigation into Russia links
President Donald Trump is driving the United States towards a new and dangerous civil war. In the last week, he has destroyed the little lingering trust between Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives and attacked the integrity of America’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies.
The worry is that these games are a smokescreen for a bigger battle: Dictator Trump against the Constitution, and against anyone who gets in his way.
The Trump presidency is becoming a law unto itself, subject to none of the restraining norms of good governance, sensible policy planning, or even common sense. It turns on the mercurial mood swings and capricious whims of one man, Trump himself. This is primarily America’s internal problem. But, given the global influence of the US, it is an issue that concerns all of us.
The shenanigans over the release of the controversial memo by Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House of Representatives’ intelligence committee, illustrate the polarisation in American politics.
Nunes, a Trump loyalist, published the memo after ramming it through the committee, against express warnings from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Justice Department, which claimed that the release could endanger national security.
To an outsider, it may seem like much ado about nothing. If all the accusations were correct – and Democrats accuse Nunes of distorting claims – they do not undermine the validity of the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, which has rattled Trump.
Trump claimed that the Nunes memo totally vindicated him, but even some leading Republicans accuse the president of stretching the truth. The memo does not affect the investigation into how Russia is working to subvert American democracy or whether Trump and/or his associates colluded with Russia. In the war of words over Russia, other serious allegations about Trump benefiting from his business empire have been forgotten.
Are Trump’s new outbursts the opening barrage to try to force out Rod Rosenstein, the deputy head of the Justice Department and Mueller’s supervisor? If Rosenstein goes, Mueller would be in danger. Trump might also shame the new FBI director Christopher Wray into resigning.
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The bigger issue is how Trump sees his role. The State of the Union address was revealing.
The normally critical CNN gushed over Trump for being disciplined and delivering a well-structured speech, appealing for the need for American unity and offering some tough constructive proposals, particularly on immigration control.
US President Donald Trump delivers his first State of the Union address
The unctuous Vice-President Mike Pence and House speaker Paul Ryan led the cheerleading, and the speech was interrupted by 75 standing ovations and 110 rounds of applause, adding 29.75 minutes or 59 per cent to it. Trump encouraged this, clapping himself and gesticulating to others to get to their feet.
The contrast between the jack-in-the-box Republicans paying homage to Trump and the Democrats, who mostly sat sullenly, underlined the divide in American politics. In the Watergate scandal, it was president Richard Nixon’s own Republican Party that forced him out. There is no sign yet of Republicans deserting Trump.
In terms of the governance, the US under Trump is in greater danger than it was under Nixon. Whether or not there was collusion between Trump and Russia, or whether or not Trump Inc is milking billions from his presidency, Trump has a dangerous way of running America.
Trump is all about himself. He claimed that the economy has prospered, jobs have grown and unemployment fallen since he took over, ignoring that the rate of jobs growth has been slower than under Obama. He claimed personal credit for the stock market boom – oops.
Truth is a casualty. In his first year in office, The Washington Post calculated that Trump had made 2,140 false or misleading claims. Policies, from tax to immigration, are promoted on the whims of Trump without examining the full economic or social implications.
With Republicans in charge of the White House and both houses of Congress, Trump has not yet managed to get the budget passed. Even so, he boldly threatened to shut down the government if Congress does not pass his immigration “reform”.
Hopes that the three generals – John Kelly as chief of staff, H.R. McMaster as chief security adviser, and James Mattis as secretary of defence – are the adults in the room have suffered a setback. Kelly has become the driving force behind Trump’s immigration plans, and Mattis and Trump have agreed on expansion and upgrading of US nuclear weapons.
Mattis believes that the nuclear expansion will deter nuclear war, but with Trump boasting to North Korea’s Kim Jong-un that his “Nuclear Button … is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works”, we should all worry about where Trump puts his fingers.
Kevin Rafferty is a political commentator