Baby Health in Winter Las Vegas Sun: This is What a Budding Dictatorship Looks Like. Will You Take a Stand?

Baby Health in Winter

We have all read mealy-mouthed articles and editorials in which the writers tiptoe around the unquestioned fact that Donald Trump lies without shame. We know he has fired anyone in the federal government who has dared to question his often absurd judgments. We know he has fired several independent Inspectors General whose job is to monitor Cabinet agencies for waste, fraud, and abuse. Most recently he fired the Inspector General of the State Department, who was investigating Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for using State Department personnel to run personal errands, like walking his dog, picking up his dry cleaning, etc., and allowing his wife to run State Department meetings as if she had been hired to be his deputy. The Inspector General had to go.

Trump glories in insulting the media, mocking them for asking questions that he prefers not to answer. At his rallies, he enjoys ridiculing journalists, treating them like criminals. His tweets are vicious and self-aggrandizing, unbecoming of a man who sits in the White House.

Bit by bit, he is destroying the norms and institutions that have protected us in the past from incompetent presidents.

This newspaper, the Las Vegas Sun, called him out for what he is: an incipient dictator, a man whose fascist tendencies grow stronger with every passing day and with his fear that he might lose the election. The editorial board also called out the Republican party, a party that once identified with Abraham Lincoln but which now allies itself with white nationalists, bigots, and every sort of rightwing extremism. To be a Republican today is to identify with the most hateful elements of our society. I am ashamed to say that I worked in a Republican administration, that of President George H.W. Bush. Today, the Bush family should be speaking out against this mad interloper who has destroyed the last shreds of decency and moderation that once typified the Republican party. Instead, they stand silent, even when Trump mocked George W. Bush for issuing a call for national unity during the pandemic.

The Las Vegas Sun editorial warns that we are moving headlong towards dictatorship.

We have been warned.

Anyone who is tempted not to vote in 2020 or to vote for a third party candidate should read this editorial.

The time has arrived to confront a grim realization in calm but forthright terms.

Since 2016, observers in the U.S. and around the world have remarked on President Donald Trump and the Republican Party exhibiting authoritarian “tendencies.”

With a sense of numb shock, we now must acknowledge the facts before us. By any objective standard, the Trump administration and GOP leadership have moved well past authoritarian reflexes.

Simply put, our nation has entered the early stages of a dictatorship. It’s an immature dictatorship and still gathering power. But it’s not theoretical and it has happened faster than any rational person might believe.

In 1788, James Madison stood before the state of Virginia’s convention to ratify the U.S. Constitution and issued a warning about the future of American democracy. An overthrow, the Founding Father said, was less likely to happen through a violent takeover than “by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power.”

Today, that prophecy is playing out in chilling vigor. Led by a president who lacks all respect for our system of government, today’s Republican Party, through a quickening succession of abuses of power, is acting as an authoritarian regime.

This is not a hypothetical. It’s not dystopian fiction. It’s an inescapable conclusion when you examine the evidence.

Ponder the basic elements of an autocracy, and weigh them against the actions of Trump and the GOP leadership.

This administration and Republican leadership have corrupted the justice system, purged and persecuted nonpartisan military personnel and government employees to install apparatchiks in their place, regularly encouraged paramilitary activity among supporters, thwarted any efforts of legitimate legislative oversight, claimed absolute immunity for Trump, promoted propagandistic media while falsely discrediting the accuracy of legitimate news, manipulated the courts, marbled the administration and judiciary with unqualified lackeys, driven contracts to supporters, used the U.S. Treasury to reward friends, attempted to coerce foreign governments into leveling false charges at political rivals, eagerly courted supportive dictators around the world, excused friends from their crimes while seeking political prosecutions of enemies on false charges, sought to bend our intelligence agencies to partisan ends, threatened a free press with retaliation, revised or suppressed historical records that were unfavorable, publicly smeared perceived opponents, sabotaged fair elections, created a cult of personality around its leader, distributed government largesse based on fealty to the leader, defined critics as subhuman, traded in race-baiting and nationalism, caged children and broken up desperate families, defined all events solely in terms of how they affect the leader, shattered revered institutions protecting Americans, reviled our allies while embracing our enemies, and attempted to call into question the validity of elections that go against the leader while intimating that they might attempt to postpone elections if the leader’s poll numbers are weak. And that catalog of horrors is the abbreviated list.

These are the core attributes the world has used for decades to identify dictators. And these actions are actively afoot in America today, and they are gaining greater velocity with each day we grow closer to the election.

Consider the following items from just the past couple of weeks.

Assault on independent oversight

• Friday: Trump fires the State Department’s inspector general, the fourth time in less than a month he has removed a nonpartisan government watchdog who has found fault with the administration. The Associated Press reports that in a letter to Congress, Trump says Steve Linick, who had held the job since 2013, no longer has his full confidence. Linick is reported to have been investigating Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for using federal resources for personal benefit. The move comes two weeks after Trump fired inspector general Christi Grimm from the Department of Health and Human Services. She had issued a report highlighting administration failures to prepare for COVID-19. At every turn in these firings, Trump sought to disable impartial oversight.

• Thursday: In testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, ousted vaccine chief Dr. Richard Bright says the country is woefully unprepared for further effects of the COVID-19 outbreak because Trump officials ignored his early warnings and then retaliated against him after he sounded an alarm in January. Bright, who worked for the federal government for 25 years before his firing by Trump appointees, tells lawmakers the U.S. will see the “darkest winter in modern history” unless there’s a ramped-up response.

• Tuesday: Asked by Time magazine about the possibility of the administration delaying the November election, Trump son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner doesn’t rule it out. He also won’t affirm that the election will take place Nov. 3 as scheduled. “It’s not my decision to make, so I’m not sure I can commit one way or the other. But right now that’s the plan,” Kushner says. “Hopefully, by the time we get to September or October or November, we’ve done enough with the testing and with all the different things we’re trying to do to prevent an outbreak of the magnitude that would make us shut down again.” Kushner’s noncommittal response fuels fears that Trump and the GOP will postpone the vote if his poll numbers are weak. Constitutionally, Trump lacks the power to do this — although the frequency of rumors about a delay attempt are troubling. However, with the support of a few GOP governors, Trump could throw the election into chaos. At minimum he regularly attacks the validity of any election that doesn’t go his way.

• Tuesday: During oral arguments in a Supreme Court case involving three lawsuits Trump has filed to conceal his tax returns, the president’s lawyers contend the president has immunity from being prosecuted or even investigated by law enforcement or Congress for any crime including murder. In other words, the attorneys contend Trump has kingly powers, a level of authority that no president in history has been granted and precisely what the Constitution’s balance of powers was designed to prevent.

• May 8: Under pressure from Trump, the Senate rushes to set a committee hearing on the confirmation of Trump loyalist filmmaker Michael Pack to lead the independent agency that oversees the Voice of America, the largest American international broadcaster. The nomination of Pack, a close ally of former Trump senior adviser Steve Bannon, has fueled fears that the VOA and its sister organizations would become Trump propaganda arms under Pack. Recently, Trump has been harshly critical of the VOA, including falsely accusing it of spreading Chinese misinformation about the coronavirus outbreak.

• May 8: Trump’s acting director of national intelligence, Richard Grenell, reorganizes his agency in blatant defiance of congressional oversight. Grenell makes the changes, which affect the network of 17 U.S. intelligence agencies he’s overseeing on an acting basis, after rebuffing a request from House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., for details. Schiff contends, justifiably, that it’s inappropriate for an acting leader to make wholesale changes. A Trump crony with scant intelligence experience, Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, is expected to be confirmed as permanent DNI by the Senate in the coming weeks.

Attacking perceived enemies

• May 7: Louis DeJoy, one of Trump’s financial backers and a longtime GOP donor, is selected as postmaster general. This opens the door for Trump to force the postal service to raise prices for companies that deliver packages, primarily Amazon, and in turn damage The Washington Post, which is owned by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. Earlier this year the Pentagon denied Amazon a bid for a multibillion-dollar contract — something now under investigation. Trump’s USPS move also raises the distinct possibility of the Republicans using the postal service to hinder vote-by-mail efforts this fall.

• May 7: A woman who had accused Dr. Anthony Fauci, the federal government’s top infectious disease expert, of sexual assault recants and says she was paid by two Trump loyalists to fabricate the claim. The woman releases an audio recording in which one of the operatives, Jack Burkman, complains that Fauci “shut the country down” and that “you have to make up whatever you have to make up to stop that train and that’s the way life works, OK? That’s the way it goes.” When the woman says that COVID-19 is a serious illness, Burkman replies: “Mother Nature has to clean the barn every so often. How real is it? Who knows? So what if 1% of the population goes? So what if you lose 400,000 people? 200,000 were elderly, the other 200,000 are the bottom of society. You got to clean out the barn.” Considering that coronavirus so far has hit the elderly, blacks, Latinos and other people of color hardest, Burkman’s talk of “cleaning the barn” suggests he considers these people to be manure.

• May 7: Politico reports that leading congressional Republicans are coalescing behind a plan to replace FBI Director Christopher Wray with someone who will be obedient to Trump. It would be another step toward dismantling the Justice Department’s independence and bringing it under Trump’s control. Since his inauguration, Trump has made a series of moves to destroy the nonpartisan independence of our country’s intelligence community. James Comey, who was fired for not ignoring former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s overtures to Russia, has now been placed under criminal investigation by Attorney General William Barr’s Justice Department. So are other members of the FBI and CIA who investigated Russia’s involvement in promoting Trump. The president has long demanded the investigations and prosecutions of these people whom he perceives as enemies.

• May 7: It’s revealed that Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, used classified information for the financial benefit of himself and his wealthy friends. Burr cashed out as much as $1.5 million in stock right before the market crash based on his insider knowledge about the coronavirus threat, and his brother-in-law sold up to $280,000 in shares the same day. Whether Burr is corrupt or not is unknown, but Trump loyalists have applauded because Burr has crossed Trump in the past. Burr steps down as committee chair on Thursday, a day after FBI agents seize his cellphone as part of a burgeoning insider trade investigation.

Undermining the rule of law

• May 7: Barr subverts federal prosecutors and the justice system by dropping charges against Flynn, who had twice pleaded guilty to breaking the law by lying to the FBI about his involvement in Russian election interference. Barr earlier interceded on behalf of another Trump loyalist, Roger Stone, by ordering federal prosecutors to reduce their sentencing recommendation for the convicted felon.

“This is a strange occurrence — this is a man (Flynn) who pled guilty twice and was prepared to be sentenced,” says Shira Scheindlin, a former federal judge, to the National Law Journal. “He had a motion pending to withdraw his plea, which had not been decided. There’s a really bad political smell to this, particularly after the Roger Stone debacle. This is going to be seen critically by prosecutors across the country as the Justice Department being the lawyer for the president, not the lawyer for the people.”

• May 7: Asked by CBS News how history would view his actions involving Flynn, Barr says, “Well, history is written by the winners. So it largely depends on who’s writing the history. I think a fair history would say that it was a good decision because it upheld the rule of law. It … upheld the standards of the Department of Justice, and it undid what was an injustice.” It’s a preposterous statement — an attorney general saying he cares about the rule of law yet obviously is eager to conduct political prosecutions. But it’s also a flagrant acknowledgment that the administration is willing to commit malfeasance and revise history to cover its tracks. Think Soviet-era practices of removing purged individuals from history books and photos. Trump and his inner circle have already shown a predilection for this on a number of occasions: ordering that aerial photos from his inauguration be doctored so that the crowd appeared larger; posting altered images that make Trump look slimmer and make his hands appear bigger; tweeting a faked photo of Trump placing a medal on the military dog that helped U.S. special forces track ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi; and coercing the National Archives into editing photos of the 2017 women’s march on Washington to white out picket signs critical of Trump. More than 2,000 former Justice Department attorneys — Republicans and Democrats — demand Barr’s resignation because of abuses of power.

• May 6: A leaked audio recording reveals that pro-Trump Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., who also heads his state’s Republican Party, pressured a local party official to submit falsified election results so that a GOP activist could make the primary election ballot. “You’ve got a sitting congressman — a sitting state party chair — who is trying to bully a volunteer — I’m a volunteer; I don’t get paid for this — into committing a crime,” said the official, Eli Bremer, to The Denver Post. “To say it’s damning is an understatement.” Previously, Buck has promoted the debunked Trump fantasy that it was Hillary Clinton who colluded with Russians.

Loyalty test

• May 6: The Trump administration assigns a White House loyalist to a behind-the-scenes role vetting Defense Department employees for loyalty to Trump, prompting concerns that Trump will purge civilian military leadership of anyone not in lockstep with his political agenda. Meanwhile, career military officers such as Brett Crozier, captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier, are stripped of command if they do something inconvenient to the president.

• May 4: It’s reported that individuals connected to Trump are negotiating to take a controlling stake of One America News Network, an extremist cable-news channel whose hosts include the chief promoter of the insane Pizzagate fantasy, loosely linked to the QAnon whackos, that holds Democrats actively engage in an organized child-abuse ring in a Washington pizzeria. The reason for Trump’s OAN ardor? He believes Fox News isn’t supportive enough and wants an outlet that he can turn into a private version of a state-run propaganda platform. In his coronavirus briefings, Trump regularly turned to OAN staff to lob him friendly questions. Trump, for his part, has made no secret of his disdain on the rare occasions when Fox News personalities give him even the slightest criticism. “The people who are watching @FoxNews, in record numbers (thank you President Trump), are angry. They want an alternative now. So do I!” he tweeted April 26. The irony is monumental – without Fox News softening up the American public with crazed theories, there would be no Trump presidency.

• May 1: A day after militia members and other armed individuals gather to protest coronavirus-related closures at Michigan’s capitol, Trump praises them on Twitter by calling them “very good people.” The protests included swastikas, Confederate flags and a noose, as well as a sign referring to Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and containing the message “tyrants get the rope.” This echoes Trump’s support of right-wing paramilitary at Charlottesville, Va., and elsewhere. By Thursday, the Michigan Legislature canceled its legislative session because of threats by armed protesters. It is a grim foreshadowing of the possibilities of Trump-loving paramilitary assaults on democratic institutions and a stupefying development in America.

• April 30: The administration suppresses new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for safely reopening businesses amid the pandemic, which call for wide-scale testing and contact tracing that Trump has been unable to put in place. The guidelines call into question the White House’s narrative that the nation can proceed safely.

Think about it: These are merely two weeks’ worth of actions by GOP leaders to rig the system, tear down checks and balances, eliminate oversight, gain permanent power and reap all the corrupt gains they can get.

This president and his party have shown they will sideline any member of the administration who isn’t a partisan loyalist fully willing to lie to the American public and bend any policy to the convenience of the president. They will: assault any independent institution; wage war on the idea of independent truths; refuse to protect the next election from tampering; engage in wholesale gerrymandering; restrict voter access; offer loving words to Kim Jong Un on his health while criticizing our allies; grovel before Vladimir Putin; engage in constant dog whistles to white supremacists. What was unimaginable in America just a few years ago is now happening before our eyes on an alarmingly regular basis. We are living in a period of kleptocratic minority rule.

Minority rule

Any realist cannot ignore the wanton destruction of the system of checks and balances and nonpartisan government and the congealing of despotic abuses.

One must conclude we are living in the early days of an authoritarian regime.

History teaches us that around the world, dictatorships often don’t announce themselves with tanks in the streets. Instead they arrive with the constant erosion of just systems, finger-pointing at imaginary enemies to mobilize their supporters and the constant concentration of power in a few hands. Meanwhile, they weaponize the justice system, the purse strings of government, law enforcement and the courts to their benefit. After they get away with the early steps, those who would rule let their actions accelerate. Suddenly the population wakes up one day to realize what’s happened. Often it’s too late by then.

During an April 3 coronavirus news conference, Trump offered a telling quote when asked why he doesn’t wear a face mask. “Wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens. Somehow I don’t see it for myself.”

In a simple sentence, Trump clearly elevates dictators (dictators!) to the same dignified plane as presidents, prime ministers, kings and queens. It’s impossible to imagine another president doing the same after more than 100 years when America has stood as a beacon defying dictators. But in today’s GOP, dictators aren’t simply welcome, they are a source of inspiration.

But it’s not too late for the U.S. The systems guarding our freedom retain enough muscle memory that this dictatorship is still too weak to assert total dominance.

We can still save the country and avoid the nightmare scenario that Madison described all those years ago.

There’s a way to prevent Trump and his lickspittles from completing their job of dismantling America. It’s identifying good candidates, supporting them financially, voting for them and doing all we can to encourage others to vote for them too. It is also showing vocal support for the impartial institutions of government that, in the end, report to the American people and not to a mentally unstable leader.

But the window is closing. The pace of the GOP leadership’s abuses isn’t going to slow down, because they know the trend in American elective politics isn’t in their favor. The nation is growing more ethnically diverse and therefore more intolerant of the Trump-era GOP’s racist and anti-immigrant policies. Americans are demanding an end to the income inequality that has been brought on by Republican economic policies that grossly favor the ultrawealthy. As climate change intensifies, so does opposition to the damaging environmental policies of the right.

Plenty of rank-and-file Republicans also are disgusted by what’s happened and need a home — indeed we need a healthy dialogue with conservatives in the marketplace of American political ideas. However, Trump and the GOP leadership are not conservatives, and real conservative Americans are in the wilderness now.

All the while, the largest generation in the country — those in their teens and 20s, a group bigger than the baby boomers — is coming of age and is fervently opposed to today’s Republican Party.

The GOP knows it will fade into history soon without drastic action, so it’s holding onto power by any means necessary and scheming to permanently tilt the scales in its favor.

True Americans — the spiritual descendants of Madison and his fellow founders, who recognize Trump and those around him as the vandals they are — know they can’t let that happen.

But we all need to realize that the emergency is no longer on the horizon, coming gradually closer.

It’s here. We’re living it. And only we can put a stop to it.

The time to decide is now. Either you allow our democracy–with all its flaws and imperfections–to be corrupted and destroyed, or you stand for the rule of law and the Constitution. There is no other choice.

Which side are you on?

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