Only the Strongman Speaks

Sometimes the secondary effects are the primary effects. The little things are the big things. The Washington Post ran a long investigative piece on what everyone knew was sure to happen:

Two kindergartners in Utah told a Latino boy that President Trump would send him back to Mexico, and teenagers in Maine sneered “Ban Muslims” at a classmate wearing a hijab. In Tennessee, a group of middle-schoolers linked arms, imitating the president’s proposed border wall as they refused to let nonwhite students pass. In Ohio, another group of middle-schoolers surrounded a mixed-race sixth-grader and, as she confided to her mother, told the girl: “This is Trump country.”

Since Trump’s rise to the nation’s highest office, his inflammatory language – often condemned as racist and xenophobic – has seeped into schools across America. Many bullies now target other children differently than they used to, with kids as young as 6 mimicking the president’s insults and the cruel way he delivers them.

That seems rather nasty. But look at this from the Trump point of view. Why is this not a good thing? Don’t all parents want their special kid to grow up a winner, and a direct person who drops all that politically correct bullshit and sneers at whiney and pathetically weak snowflakes who can’t handle the truth? Things have changed. Tell the truth and make it hurt. Call a spade a spade. That’s better for everyone and Trump has shown how that’s done. But this item makes that sound like a bad thing:

Trump’s words, those chanted by his followers at campaign rallies and even his last name have been wielded by students and school staff members to harass children more than 300 times since the start of 2016, a Washington Post review of 28,000 news stories found. At least three-quarters of the attacks were directed at kids who are Hispanic, black or Muslim, according to the analysis. Students have also been victimized because they support the president – more than 45 times during the same period.

So the sneering goes both ways, but three-quarters of the attacks are just what one would expect:

“It’s gotten way worse since Trump got elected,” said Ashanty Bonilla, 17, a Mexican American high school junior in Idaho who faced so much ridicule from classmates last year that she transferred. “They hear it. They think it’s okay. The president says it. Why can’t they?”

Asked about Trump’s effect on student behavior, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham noted that first lady Melania Trump – whose “Be Best” campaign denounces online harassment – had encouraged kids worldwide to treat one another with respect.

Which one of those two are the kids supposed to listen to? That’s easy:

Just as the president has repeatedly targeted Latinos, so, too, have school bullies… In one of the most extreme cases of abuse, a 13-year-old in New Jersey told a Mexican American schoolmate – who was 12 – that “all Mexicans should go back behind the wall.” A day later, on June 19, 2019, the 13-year-old assaulted the boy and his mother, Beronica Ruiz, punching him and beating her unconscious, said the family’s attorney, Daniel Santiago. He wonders to what extent Trump’s repeated vilification of certain minorities played a role.

“When the president goes on TV and is saying things like Mexicans are rapists, Mexicans are criminals – these children don’t have the cognitive ability to say, ‘He’s just playing the role of a politician,'” Santiago argued. “The language that he’s using matters.”

Of course it does, and that language may matter when the opposing lawyer defends the kid who beat the other kid’s mother unconscious. Trump has said that his tweets lay out official federal policy. He has said and tweeted that “those people” are rapists and murderers and drug dealers, so there’s nothing wrong with the young attacker’s cognitive abilities. The kid got it right. He understood the president. Cut him some slack. After all, this can go both ways:

School staff members in at least 18 states, from Washington to West Virginia, have picked on students for wearing Trump gear or voicing support for him. Among teenagers, the confrontations have at times turned physical. A high school student in Northern California said that after she celebrated the 2016 election results on social media, a classmate accused her of hating Mexicans and attacked her, leaving the girl with a bloodied nose. Last February, a teenager at an Oklahoma high school was caught on video ripping a Trump sign out of a student’s hands and knocking a red MAGA cap off his head.

But the bulk of the Post item is not about this twenty-five percent. They’re not the Hispanic kid or the Muslim girl committing suicide. No one is telling them to go back to Africa. They’ll be fine. Trump will protect them. And this is just kids being kids.

But this isn’t. Max Boot, the conservative but former Republican sees this happening with adults too:

You would think the symbolism of a tycoon being chauffeured in an armored limousine would hardly be the most effective way to signal “I’m one of you.” But that’s precisely what President Trump did at the Daytona 500 on Sunday – and he was met with a rapturous reception from Republican-leaning NASCAR fans. I don’t begrudge Trump the use of taxpayer money for a political stunt as previous presidents have done. What I do mind is the reaction of his groupies. Charlie Kirk, founder of the conservative student group Turning Point USA, revealed that Trump has “historic levels of support with real Americans at Daytona,” while Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) tweeted, “Nothing more American than @realDonaldTrump and NASCAR!!”

And some people don’t belong there:

Trumpism, like all populist movements, is based on the pernicious conceit that only the strongman speaks for the “real” people and that anyone who opposes him must be an outsider or elitist who isn’t in touch with the common folk. The corollary is that the supreme leader is justified in doing just about anything in the people’s name – even abusing his authority to punish those who don’t support him.

But there’s a problem with this populist real-Americans stuff that Boot can document:

A president with a 43.5 percent approval rating doesn’t speak for most Americans. In today’s America, Republicans represent more land area, but Democrats represent more people – having exceeded the Republican tally by 2.8 million votes in the 2016 presidential election and by more than 8.6 million votes in the 2018 House races.

The blue parts of the country are not only more populous but also more diverse and (no coincidence) more economically dynamic. The Brookings Institution calculated that the counties carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016 account for nearly two-thirds of U.S. economic output. The gap between blue and red America is widening, with blue House districts showing an impressive increase in foreign-born workers, minorities, professional and digital jobs, productivity, and adults with bachelor’s degrees. Red districts are growing mainly in the percentage of basic manufacturing, agricultural and mining jobs, and in the over-65 population. As a result, Brookings found, “Democratic-voting districts have seen their GDP per seat grow by a third since 2008, from $35.7 billion to $48.5 billion a seat, whereas Republican districts saw their output slightly decline from $33.2 billion to $32.6 billion.”

And that has consequences:

The denizens of red America are aware that they are being left behind, and they’re not happy about it. Trump taps into that dissatisfaction, but it’s a crock to claim that the shrinking part of the country that he represents – white, rural and blue collar – is somehow more “real” than, say, the bustling city where he was born.

Rather than trying to help his constituents get ahead in a changing economy, Trump prefers to stoke their fury against the minorities, immigrants and “globalists” he blames for their woes.

And he’s damned good at that:

Trump jumps on slurs against his movement, such as Clinton saying in 2016 that half of his supporters are “deplorables.” Yet his supporters applaud when he denigrates blue America: He has said that New York City and New York state “are falling apart,” that San Francisco is “disgusting,” that California is a “disgrace to our country,” that Baltimore is a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess,” that Atlanta is in “horrible shape” and that Chicago is “embarrassing to us as a nation.” As Windsor Mann noted in the Los Angeles Times, “He hates every part of America that doesn’t love him, which is most of America.”

It’s like being back in junior high school. Hell, it’s actually the same thing now, and Boot adds this:

The red states aren’t being taken advantage of by the blue states but by the unscrupulous demagogue in the White House. As a proud resident of New York City, I’m fed up with the president’s vendetta against the most populous and productive parts of the country. We’re real Americans, too.

The strongman says no, you’re not, so Boot keeps saying things like this:

The French philosopher Montesquieu wrote in 1748: “The tyranny of a prince in an oligarchy is not so dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy.” We are seeing his warning vindicated. President Trump is increasingly acting as a tyrannical (and erratic) prince. And yet much of the public is so inured to his misconduct that his latest assaults on the rule of law are met with a collective shrug.

Public passivity is Trump’s secret weapon as he pursues his authoritarian agenda. “I have the right to do whatever I want,” he says, and the lack of pushback seems to confirm it.

But wait, there is new pushback:

A national association of federal judges has called an emergency meeting Tuesday to address growing concerns about the intervention of Justice Department officials and President Donald Trump in politically sensitive cases, the group’s president said Monday.

Philadelphia U.S. District Judge Cynthia Rufe, who heads the independent Federal Judges Association, said the group “could not wait” until its spring conference to weigh in on a deepening crisis that has enveloped the Justice Department and Attorney General William Barr.

“There are plenty of issues that we are concerned about,” Rufe told USA TODAY. “We’ll talk all of this through.”

That should be interesting:

Rufe, nominated to the bench by President George W. Bush, said the group of more than 1,000 federal jurists called for the meeting last week after Trump criticized prosecutors’ initial sentencing recommendation for his friend Roger Stone and the Department of Justice overruled them.

Trump also took a swipe at the federal judge who is set to preside at Stone’s sentencing hearing Thursday.

“Is this the judge that put Paul Manafort in SOLITARY CONFINEMENT, something not even mobster Al Capone had to endure?” Trump tweeted last week, referring to U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson. “How did she treat Crooked Hillary Clinton? Just asking!”

Jackson jailed Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, prior to his convictions in two separate financial fraud cases after he sought to tamper with potential witnesses.

But so what? There are bigger issues:

Rufe said the judges’ association is “not inclined to get involved with an ongoing case,” but she voiced strong support for Jackson.

“I am not concerned with how a particular judge will rule,” Rufe said, praising Jackson’s reputation. “We are supportive of any federal judge who does what is required.”

The unusual concern voiced by the judges’ group comes in the wake of an equally unusual protest. More than 2,000 former Justice Department officials called on Barr to resign Sunday, claiming his handling of the Stone case “openly and repeatedly flouted” the principle of equal justice.

And he does that to help his boss. And that’s the first step on the road to a dark place. Donald Ayer, who served as United States Attorney and Principal Deputy Solicitor General in the Reagan administration and as Deputy Attorney General under George H. W. Bush says this:

When Donald trump chose Bill Barr to serve as attorney general in December 2018, even some moderates and liberals greeted the choice with optimism. One exuberant Democrat described him as “an excellent choice,” who could be counted on to “stand up for the department’s institutional prerogatives and push back on any improper attempt to inject politics into its work.”

At the end of his first year of service, Barr’s conduct has shown that such expectations were misplaced. Beginning in March with his public whitewashing of Robert Mueller’s report, which included powerful evidence of repeated obstruction of justice by the president, Barr has appeared to function much more as the president’s personal advocate than as an attorney general serving the people and government of the United States.

And it was, after all, one damned thing after another:

Among the most widely reported and disturbing events have been Barr’s statements that a judicially authorized FBI investigation amounted to “spying” on the Trump campaign, and his public rejection in December of the inspector general’s considered conclusion that the Russia probe was properly initiated and overseen in an unbiased manner. Also quite unsettling was Trump’s explicit mention of Barr and Rudy Giuliani in the same breath in his July 25 phone call with Volodymyr Zelensky, as individuals the Ukrainian president should speak with regarding the phony investigation that Ukraine was expected to publicly announce.

Still more troubling has been Barr’s intrusion, apparently for political reasons, into the area of Justice Department action that most demands scrupulous integrity and strict separation from politics and other bias – invocation of the criminal sanction. When Barr initiated a second, largely redundant investigation of the FBI Russia probe in May, denominated it criminal, and made clear that he is personally involved in carrying it out, many eyebrows were raised.

Barr will be Trump’s wingman now:

The evenhanded conduct of the prosecutions of Roger Stone and Michael Flynn by experienced Department of Justice attorneys have been disrupted at the 11th hour by the attorney general’s efforts to soften the consequences for the president’s associates. More generally, it appears that Barr has recently identified a group of lawyers whom he trusts and put them in place to oversee and second-guess the work of the department’s career attorneys on a broader range of cases.

So people are quitting, for good reason:

Bad as they are, these examples are more symptoms than causes of Barr’s unfitness for office. The fundamental problem is that he does not believe in the central tenet of our system of government – that no person is above the law. In chilling terms, Barr’s own words make clear his long-held belief in the need for a virtually autocratic executive who is not constrained by countervailing powers within our government under the constitutional system of checks and balances.

Indeed, given our national faith and trust in a rule of law no one can subvert, it is not too strong to say that Bill Barr is un-American. And now, from his perch as attorney general, he is in the midst of a root-and-branch attack on the core principles that have guided our justice system…

And that is going well:

The Justice Department has been at the forefront of the president’s defiance of Congress’s traditional power of the purse as a check on executive-branch adventurism. On February 15, 2019, the day after Barr was confirmed, the president issued an emergency declaration to divert funds from other appropriations for use in building a border wall. Congress had several times considered and refused to appropriate the requested funds for this purpose, and the president had himself conceded that there was no actual emergency. But Barr’s DOJ has vigorously litigated the cases challenging this action, and thus has worked to undermine Congress’s express constitutional power to control the appropriation of funds.

But this is part of a broader effort:

Far from recognizing the sensitive “judicial nature” of the department’s work and the need to avoid even the appearance of improper influence and to show that no person is above the law, under Barr, the Department of Justice is actively engaged on many fronts in helping realize Trump’s stated goal of being able to do whatever he wants, free from interference from any branch of government.

Barr’s agenda was confirmed by his November speech to the Federalist Society on “the Constitution’s approach to executive power.” He argues that “over the past several decades, we have seen a steady encroachment on presidential authority by other branches of government,” and that those “encroachments” must end.

He purports to justify his position by offering a selective version of American history, discussing the Founders’ intentions with regard to presidential power, characterizing the role the presidency has supposedly played over time, and arguing that, in recent decades, the Founders’ vision has been undermined by actions of Congress and the courts.

But it’s all nonsense:

At the beginning of his speech, Barr derides “the grammar-school civics-class version” of our history – the one that generations of students have internalized. It is that the Founders, sensitive from experience to the danger that one part of government might develop tyrannical powers, adopted a complex structure of checks and balances. In that government, power was shared among the three branches through sometimes-countervailing delegations of authority, which made each branch dependent on the others. The numerous checks that the Constitution created to limit the president’s authority – the impeachment power, the House appropriation power, Congress’s power to override vetoes, the need for a congressional declaration of war, and the Senate power to advise and consent, for example – show that presidential tyranny was prominent among their concerns.

According to Barr, the Founders actually were not much concerned about an out-of-control president, as this “civics-class version” suggests. He reasons that history shows a rise in the relative power of Parliament against the King during the mid-18th century, and that by the time of our own Revolution, the evil perceived by the patriots was more “an overweening Parliament” than “monarchical tyranny.”

So, they all wanted the president to be king. Who knew? But this gets odder:

Perhaps the most outrageous and alarming ideas that Barr advances come in his attacks on the judiciary, which occupy fully a third of his speech. In his mind, it seems, the courts are the principal culprit in constraining the extraordinarily broad powers that the president is constitutionally entitled to exercise. His discussion ignores a pillar of our legal system since almost the very beginning – Chief Justice John Marshall’s magisterial pronouncement in the early days of our republic that “it is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.”

Barr complains that the judiciary “has appointed itself the ultimate arbiter of separation-of-powers disputes between Congress and the executive,” saying that the Framers did not envision that it would play such a role. Barr yearns for a day when the president can bully everyone else in government, and leave them no ability to seek relief in court.

So now there is only one thing:

Bill Barr’s America is not a place that anyone, including Trump voters, should want to go. It is a banana republic where all are subject to the whims of a dictatorial president and his henchmen. To prevent that, we need a public uprising demanding that Bill Barr resign immediately, or failing that, that he be impeached.

But that won’t happen. The nation is still back in junior high school, with the taunts about who really belongs in the building, and in the community, and who should get the hell out and go back to somewhere or other. And what is said must be incredibly hurtful. There will be despair. There will be suicides. That’s what makes all of it so much fun.

And then we grow up. No, wait. We never do.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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