Trump continues waging war on courts, press and the states
With congressional Republicans in the majority in Congress and unwilling to cross Donald Trump, the job of containing Trump’s incipient tyranny falls to the three remaining centers of independent power: the nation’s courts, its press and a few state governments.
Which is why Trump is escalating attacks on all three, seeking to erode public confidence in them.
After federal Judge James Robart — an appointee of George W. Bush — stayed Trump’s travel ban, Trump leveled a personal attack on “this so-called judge,” and then tweeted: “Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system.”
While other presidents have publicly disagreed with court decisions, none before Trump has gone after individual judges with personal invective. None has tried to intimidate individual judges. None has questioned the legitimacy of the courts.
Trump is on the warpath against Robart and the courts because they defied him.
So has the press. And as with the courts, Trump has responded by seeking to undermine public confidence in the media. Speaking to the U.S. Central Command, Trump veered off his prepared remarks to make a remarkable claim: The media was intentionally covering up reports of terrorist attacks.
“You’ve seen what happened in Paris and Nice,” Trump told the assembled military officers. “It’s gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported. And in many cases the very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it. They have their reasons, and you understand that.”
What could be the media’s reason for covering up terrorist attacks? The only possible inference is that the press — like the courts — is imperiling our nation because it doesn’t kowtow to Donald Trump.
State governments pose a third line of defense against Trump. Several state attorneys general have taken Trump’s travel ban to court, and one particularly large Democratic state — California — has defied him on immigration and the environment.
So Trump is directing his ire against these states as well.
Trump is threatening to take federal dollars away from California. “We give tremendous amounts of money to California. … California in many ways is out of control. … We may have to [defund California]. Certainly that would be a weapon,” he told Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly.
Rubbish. The federal government doesn’t give money to California, at least not net dollars. Californians send more tax dollars to the federal government each year than the state gets back.
Fiscally, California isn’t “out of control.” Since 2013, the state has operated with a budget surplus. That’s more than can be said for the federal government. Or for Trump’s own business, for that matter.
Trump’s real beef is that California is independent of him. It’s defying Trump with its high environmental standards and “sanctuary” cities.
Even worse, from his standpoint, its citizens voted against him in the 2016 election by nearly a 2-to-1 margin, preferring Hillary Clinton by about 3.5 million votes. He can’t seem to get this out of his mind.
Trump repeatedly claims that millions of those votes were fraudulent. Trump spokesman Sean Spicer identifies California as one of the “bigger states” that merit a federal probe into election fraud, adding, “That’s where I think we’re gonna look.”
But Trump has zero evidence of voter fraud in California, or anywhere else for that matter.
For Trump, evidence is irrelevant. California needs to be taught a lesson — as do the federal judges and the journalists who defy him. And what is that lesson? That if they dare cross Trump, he’ll make sure the public distrusts them.
The judiciary, the press and California are major centers of resistance to Trump because they are independent of him. So he’s escalating his attacks on them.
Trump doesn’t want any independence. He wants total control.
Editor’s note: Robert Reich, a former U.S. Secretary of Labor, is professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley and the author of “Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few,” now available in paperback. His new film, “Inequality for All,” is now out on Amazon, DVD and On Demand. His daily blog is at www.facebook.com/RBReich/.