Muftic: Trump’s unique place in American history
The character of Donald Trump will be a subject of biographies for years to come. It will not be his economic and social policies that will be highlighted. Never have we had a president like him who takes revenge on those who do not bow down to him personally by repurposing presidential powers to punish them. His targets have been members of his own political party or any establishment within his own government that challenges him, those who put loyalty to the rule of law over loyalty to him, and especially the media.
In the past couple of weeks such actions reached a crescendo, motivating those with enough guts to push back. Taking him on were Democrats and Republicans, independents, military and civilians. Three hundred newspapers nationwide published editorials supporting freedom of the press, vowing not to be cowed and objecting to Trump’s campaign to discredit all media who dared criticize him as “fake news” or “the enemy of the people.”
Donald Trump’s use of certain presidential tools to punish and cripple the power of the disloyal to protect his presidency and to reward loyalty is unique. Whether repurposing these tools is also abuse of power is yet to be determined. He has dangled his power of pardons to reward those “very good” guys who maintain their loyalty to him in advance of criminal trials concerning the Russian matter. He had illustrated his pardon power by pardoning others earlier and reaffirmed again his support of his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, before and even during the trial.
This past week he discovered another tool: yanking security clearances from those who could challenge him. Never had a president used such powers for purely political reasons. He revoked the security clearance of former CIA chief John Brennan for “erratic conduct and behavior,” a euphemism for being an outspoken critic of the president’s policy of speaking no evil of the Russians or their actions in the 2016 elections. Trump then issued an “enemies” list of nine more he threatened with the same action, all of whom were connected to the Mueller probe into Trump’s Russian connections. In response, every former CIA director since 1966 signed a letter in protest of his threatening their free speech, and 60 more former intel officers charged such political litmus loyalty tests were harmful to national security missions. Retired Admiral William McRaven, who directly supervised the bin Laden take down, asked to be put on that enemies list as a badge of honor.
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Trump is not the first politician to use a bully pulpit to curry support of racists, but he is a master of the old and new art. Using Twitter and mass rallies, this president sets the example and inspires the worst in our country to speak out openly in disrespect and hatred of migrants, immigrants and those of color. Some have struck back. An attempt by white nationalists, a group Trump had called “also some fine people,” to march in support of racism in memory of last year’s Charlottesville, were overwhelmed by crowds of demonstrators rising in support of civil rights. A former Trump TV apprentice and fired White House staffer Omarosa Manigault Newman blew the whistle on the president’s racism, hinting Trump knew in advance of Russian campaign election meddling, and she provided a tape recording of Trump’s family offering what she considered a high paid hush money non-job after she was fired. Trump responded with threats of legal action and called her a “dog.” Her defiant answer: releasing more tapes she made while in the White House.
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