An Atlantic magazine article by Washington journalist David Frum frets about a coming autocracy engineered by President Donald Trump, and the amazing thing is that the author did not notice the past eight years. It’s as if Noah’s Ark had finally landed and the understood message was that a flood was only now on its way.
Equally bad as Trump is this kind of overwrought despair about him, the round-the-clock crying, the fanatical diatribes, the rioting, the celebrity angst, the intellectual wannabes worrying themselves into paranoia. Yes, Trump is as debased as debased gets for a president of the United States of America. He is ignorant, small-minded, vulgar, insensitive, inarticulate and egotistical, for starters.
But all of this has to be viewed in context, and the context is Hillary Clinton, of course – the main encouragement for multitudes of Trump voters – and also President Barack Obama, the opposite of Trump in sophistication though not in ego. He happened to be unequipped as president to negotiate with his assumed inferiors but prepared to discard democratic principles if they got in his legacy’s way.
“We’re not just going to be waiting for legislation,” said Obama in 2014 after Republicans captured the Senate on top of controlling the House. “I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone, and I can use that pen to sign executive orders and take executive actions and administrative actions that move the ball forward.”
In other words, so much for constitutional checks and balances and on with unflinching power. It wasn’t just talk. It was action. Frum, to his credit, does mention Obama’s granting legal status to vast numbers of illegal immigrants after saying at least 22 times that he had no authority to do that without congressional approval. He was right. The order is now in court.
Also in court is his order establishing a sweeping Clean Power Plan that would cost Americans a fortune in utility bills, erase scads of jobs and do zip about global warming (as admitted by EPA Director Gina McCarthy). It was based on a plain misinterpretation of law and would simply scuttle state laws unconstitutionally (as argued by constitutional expert Laurence Tribe).
There is much, much more along these lines, but consider one of the surest ways of autocratic oppression in these United States, and that’s tens of thousands of pages of regulations that aim to micromanage businesses and your life. Guess who holds records on all of this? Obama, of course. The most impressive of these, autocratically speaking, is his 600 major regulations costing a total of $743 billion. You can run but you can’t hide.
Frum spends a lot of time on subjects irrelevant to his main topic, such as possible conflicts of interest. He gets downright ridiculous when he apparently thinks Trump’s rhetoric is more dangerous to a free press than the Obama administration’s spying on the Associated Press and threatening reporters with jail on issues of identifying sources. He goes after Fox TV as entangled in a Trump love affair without acknowledging a widespread media enmity that he himself illustrates.
Frum also cheats statistics by denying a significant crime rise in America’s biggest cities in Obama’s last years in office, seeing this claim as a political trick by Trump to divide and conquer. The numbers are as undeniable as the blood in the streets, and the writer’s excuse of crime being a lot lower than in the 1990s is like shrugging your shoulders at the 2008 recession because the Great Depression was worse.
Beyond Frum, there is the Muslim ban that was not a Muslim ban. There were the immigration raids that were no different from similar raids under Obama. There were Trump’s court criticisms that did not come close to Obama’s 2010 State of the Union assault on Supreme Court justices sitting right in front of him.
“How To Build An Autocracy” is the headline of the Frum piece. Obama gave us some very good lessons.
Jay Ambrose is a columnist for Tribune News Service.
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