Muftic: Trump returns to ‘reality’ after meetings with tyrants |

Muftic: Trump returns to ‘reality’ after meetings with tyrants

Felicia Muftic
My View
Felicia Muftic
Courtesy Photo |

Donald Trump has now returned to the realities of the political system in the United States. What was noted by many is that he was not at ease in western Europe, and refused to confirm U.S. support of the core reason for NATO, mutual defense without exception, and was the odd man out on climate change.

Lauded as his most successful part of his trip, he managed to score big with Saudi Arabia or Saudi Arabian absolute rulers treated Trump like the king he would like to think he deserved.

Given the contrast with his attitude toward the Saudis with his scolding messages and standoffishness in Europe, it is clear that Trump is much more comfortable with tyrants, whom he considers models of “strong leaders” than he is with those who believe in Western democracy, so much so he has tried to ape some of their steps to power. Those who have been the most warmly welcomed or invited to the White House in the first months of his administration were the destroyer of democracy in Turkey, Recep Erdogan, and Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, who had declared martial law rule as he killed thousands without due process or trials. Trump’s bromance with Putin is legendary.

There is a lesson in the rise to power of these autocrats. Unlike the old days where a military putsch changed regimes, wannabe autocrats now get into power by a democratic vote and then set about to grab power and eliminate the opposition. Their countrymen have permitted their loss of democracy because of real or trumped up fear from a threat to national security or lawlessness and crime that begged for a strong arm to lead them. Others saw the emerging autocrat as a ticket to get their shared agenda enacted. Once in office, the creep to autocracy began. First they ignored constitutional constraints on executive power, and pushed through changes in laws, constitutions, that made it difficult for anyone to challenge them. Erdogan even eliminated his legislature by a vote on a new constitution and Putin filled his Duma with loyalists.

There are many current examples of how a democracy fell to authoritarians. There is a pattern. The first step is to reduce the power of the opposition press. Unlike Erdogan or Putin, Trump has not imprisoned opposition reporters or killed them, but he has tried to diminish their power by convincing many that what is reported and covered on his favorite TV station is the truth and the rest spout fake news or make up their stories. He has called the press the “enemy of the people,” taking a page from the old USSR slogan. The writers of the Bill of Rights saw a strong, free press as another check on abusers of power and protected it in the first amendment.

Another step toward to authoritarian rule is to diminish the credibility of an independent judiciary. Trump uses personal attacks regarding the Trump University fraud case’s “Mexican” judge or the Muslim ban executive orders overturned by “liberal judges.” The balance of power with an equally empowered independent judiciary is fundamental to the Constitution’s rule of law.

One way to get around an independent judiciary is to stack a judiciary with loyal true believers who have an issue agenda instead of those who have demonstrated support of the rule of law as embodied in the Constitution. Another step is changing rules to make it easier to get his agenda passed. Changing the Senate rules that required 61 votes for approval of a Supreme Court justice to a simple majority was the first step.

Now he wants the Senate to change their rules so that their simple majority could pass his agenda with out fear of a filibuster or the need to compromise.

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