Posted by Curt on 6 February, 2017 at 3:49 pm. 1 comment.


Jonathan S. Tobin:

Since outrage over President Trump never takes a day off, the nation awoke from its post–Super Bowl stupor still trying to digest the two latest outrageous things he said over the weekend. Trump’s astonishing justification for his sympathy for Vladimir Putin — in which he appeared to be saying that the U.S. was morally equivalent to a tyrannical and murderous Russian autocrat — shocked Republicans as well as Democrats. But Trump’s criticisms of a federal district-court judge in Seattle who issued a nationwide order halting implementation of the president’s executive orders on immigration and refugees have gotten as much play, if not more, because they seem to reinforce the notion that Trump is a would-be authoritarian like his friend in Moscow.

The abuse of Judge James Robart was typically Trumpian rhetoric that demonstrated again that judicial robes are no barrier to venting his spleen at anyone who criticizes him or frustrates his designs. Such language ill becomes any president of the United States, but those treating this incident as if it were the first time in history the executive branch ever blasted the judiciary are being disingenuous.

Presidential impatience with the courts has been around since the early years of the republic. But you don’t have go back to Thomas Jefferson’s attack on Chief Justice John Marshall, or even delve into Franklin Roosevelt’s attempt to pack the Supreme Court, in order to cite a precedent. We need only think back seven years, to the 2010 State of the Union address, when President Obama directly attacked the court in the presence of its members for its Citizens United decision defending First Amendment rights of political speech. At the time, mainstream-media reaction seemed to focus more on Justice Samuel Alito’s shaking his head and mouthing the words “not true” when he heard the president’s misleading summary of the case than on the question of whether it was appropriate for a president to denounce the judiciary in this manner.

So whatever one may think of Trump’s orders — which were sloppily drawn and clumsily implemented but arguably well within the scope of presidential powers as authorized by relevant legislation — the claims that Trump’s intemperate language about a judge is an unprecedented step down the slippery slope to dictatorship don’t stand up to scrutiny.

More troubling was Trump’s willingness to defend Putin and claim that the U.S. has no right to be judgmental about his despotic regime. Conservatives who blasted Obama for what they felt was his propensity to apologize for the United States rather than defend American exceptionalism can’t excuse Trump’s comments. Trump’s pro-Putin stand is rooted in a dubious belief that Russia will help the U.S. against ISIS and results from his unquenchable desire to troll the media and even mainstream conservatives.

Nevertheless, as a policy it is rife with contradictions that cannot be sustained. Ultimately Trump will discover, as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley already seem to understand, that Putin’s foreign-policy goals are about reassembling the old Soviet empire and undermining U.S. influence, not defeating ISIS. The president will also have to choose between allying himself with Putin and adopting a tougher stance against Russia’s Iranian partner in the conflict in Syria. Moreover, if Putin treats presidential flattery as a green light for more aggression against Ukraine or an assault on the Baltic republics, then, like George W. Bush and Barack Obama before him, Trump may realize that another attempt at a Russia reset was a costly disaster.

But the daily wave of outrage is still helping Trump rather than hurting him politically. That may seem counterintuitive, since the impression one gets from watching CNN or reading the New York Times every day is that each new instance of unpresidential behavior is undermining his ability to govern. But the more Democrats — both on the far left and more mainstream liberals — buy into the notion that Trump really does wish to emulate Putin and become a dictator, the more they are falling into his trap.

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