I was all set to write about the budget deal when news broke yesterday that Rachel Brand, the Associate Attorney General and number three official at the Department of Justice, had decided to resign. Last December, I wrote that in the event that Donald Trump were to fire Rod Rosentsein, the person in charge of supervising the Mueller investigation would be Brand. Now that she is gone, that duty would likely fall to Solicitor General Noel Francisco.
In case you haven't heard of Francisco, he's the attorney who represented former Virginia governor Robert McDonald in his bribery conviction appeal before the Supreme Court. The Court eventually ruled in favor of McDonald and overturned his bribery conviction. Beyond that, we don't know a whole lot, especially how he would react were he to be ordered to fire Mueller. Back in 1973, we know how that Solicitor General reacted. Robert Bork complied with Nixon's order and the resultant Constitutional crisis threw the country into chaos.
Consider the events of the last few days: A deeply misleading and inflammatory Republican memo designed to undermine the Russia investigation was released by the White House, while a Democratic rebuttal was quashed; Andrew McCabe was forced out as Deputy Director of the FBI; a sitting president actually accused legislators who didn't applaud his State of the Union speech of treason; Rachel Brand has jumped ship; and Rod Rosenstein is a dead man walking.
To add insult to injury, Trump now wants a military parade, just like his buddy Vladimir Putin has in Russia. Seriously, if the prospect of tanks rolling down Pennsylvania Avenue doesn't scare the shit out of you, I honestly don't know what would. This man isn't a president; he's a dictator in waiting.
We have seen a concerted effort by this administration to attack and castrate the institutions of this country, all with the aiding and abetting of a Republican Party that has now forfeited any shred of credibility it once had. With few exceptions, every one of them has become complicit in this slow-moving and deliberate government coup. The party of Lincoln, Eisenhower and, yes, even Reagan has now become the party of Trump.
And while all this is going on, Trump's approval numbers have begun to inch upward. He is now hovering around 42 percent, according to the RCP average, up from a low of 35 percent only a few months ago; proof positive that the public is beginning to get impervious to his antics. Lenin was right when he said a lie told often enough becomes the truth. Dana Milbank may have put it best when he quoted Jonathan Swift: "Falsehood flies and truth comes limping after it."
There has always been a method to Trump's madness and every magician knows it full well. Put enough balls in the air and the audience becomes distracted. The fact is that since he launched his campaign in 2015, Trump has lied so many times that it has become impossible to keep track of them. The Washington Post has compiled a list that is well into the hundreds; at this point, it might as well be in the thousands for all the good it will do. At some point, people simply tune out the chatter, which is exactly what Trump wants. No matter how dysfunctional his White House may be or outrageously offensive his tweets get, all that has been baked into the equation. This con-artist extraordinaire has pulled off the biggest con of his life: he has managed to normalize his behavior to such a degree that a good chunk of the population has tuned him out.
And that is what despots do right before they seize power in a country. First they attack the institutions tasked with holding them accountable; next they embolden co-cospirators to draw up an alternative narrative they can then peddle to the masses. That is precisely what the Nunes memo was intended to be. It was never about protecting the rights of Carter Page from unjustified surveillance; it was about creating the myth of a deep state out to subvert the will of the people, thus giving the chief executive the excuse he needs to eliminate those who were part of the conspiracy, e.g., Rod Rosenstein and Robert Mueller.
And it has worked brilliantly. A recent poll found that less than half the country believes the Russia investigation is fair. That is down significantly from last fall when an overwhelming majority of the country felt it was. What that means is that Trump could conceivably fire Rosenstein within the next few days and then order Francisco to get rid of Mueller. With House Republicans and Fox News giving him cover, he could ride out the shit storm indefinitely. Even if Democrats manage to retake the House in the midterms, Trump would still be safe because it would take 67 votes in the Senate to convict him and there's no way Senate Republicans would allow that to happen.
Last month in a piece for Politico, John Dean pondered what might've happened if Richard Nixon had had an entire news channel and a Republican-controlled Congress at his disposal.
"There’s social media, there’s the internet; the news cycles are faster. I think Watergate would have occurred at a much more accelerated speed than the 928 days it took to go from the arrest at the Watergate to the conviction of Haldeman and Ehrlichman and [John] Mitchell, et al. There’s more likelihood he might have survived if there’d been a Fox News."
Trump is no Nixon; he's far worse. Nixon, for all his flaws, did not cut the legs out of the institutions of his day. In fact, as politicians go, he was about as mainstream as they get. He took the U.S. off the gold-standard, established relations with Communist China and started the EPA. Were it not for the personal demons that led to his downfall, he might've gone down in history as one of the more effective presidents of the 20th century. Nothing in Trump's resume suggests he has the capacity to be anything other than an abject failure.
It was professor Halford E. Luccock of the Yale University's Divinity school who in 1938 said, "When and if fascism comes to America it will not be labeled ‘made in Germany’; it will not be marked with a swastika; it will not even be called fascism; it will be called, of course, ‘Americanism'".
The clock is ticking. If Trump gets away with firing Mueller it won't just be the beginning of a Constitutional crisis; it'll be the end of the Republic itself. Anyone who truly cares about democracy should be deeply concerned by what is going on here.