The fallout continued yesterday from Donald Trump’s interference in the workings of the Justice Department. Attorney General William Barr took intense heat from Democratic lawmakers and an army of detractors on social media and cable TV. The most devastating and chilling analysis came from Rachel Maddow, who focused on a column from 2016 in the New York Review of Books by (former Russian) Masha Gessen entitled “Autocracy: Rules for Survival”. Maddow highlighted several or Gessen’s rules, including these excerpts:
Rule #1: Believe the autocrat. He means what he says. Whenever you find yourself thinking, or hearing others claiming, that he is exaggerating, that is our innate tendency to reach for rationalization.
Trump said he wanted to lock his adversaries up. He meant it. His supporters meant it. Trump said he wanted his own Roy Cohn, and he got one. Maddow went onto this:
Rule #3: Institutions will not save you. The United States has much stronger institutions than Germany did in the 1930s, or Russia does today. The problem, however, is that many of these institutions are enshrined in political culture rather than in law, and all of them–including the ones enshrined in law–depend on the good faith of all actors to fulfill their purpose and uphold the Constitution.
Neither Trump nor his entire administration has ever acted in good faith, and they surely never will. Which is why we are in deep trouble.
I want to highlight the next of Gessen’s rules:
Rule #4: Be outraged. In the face of the impulse to normalize, it is essential to maintain one’s capacity for shock.
Here’s a link to Gessen’s article:
Maddow went on to make this precise and chilling declaration (my emphasis):
The most consequential collapse of the Rule of Law is when the law becomes a tool of the political leader, where the power of the criminal justice system and the law enforcement apparatus of this country is employed for the pleasure and the benefit of a president who is supposed to allow it to operate independently, but we have now crossed the line on that. He told us he would do it; he has now done it.
If you have any doubt that the politicization of the Justice Department is an emergency for our Democracy, here’s what Chuck Rosenberg wrote in the Washington Post last night. He’s a former US Attorney and FBI official.
The rule of law is a construct. It was made by people — and is nurtured and preserved by people. It can also be destroyed by people. And unlike the law of gravity, which works everywhere and all the time (at least on this planet), the rule of law is precious and fragile. As citizens and prosecutors, we either safeguard it or we surrender it. That’s the choice. What political leadership did here — mandating a favor for a friend of the president in line with the president’s publicly expressed desire in the case — significantly damages the rule of law and the perception of Justice Department fairness.
He goes on to this conclusion:
Safeguard or surrender. You choose.
Here’s a link:
This is terrifying and sickening stuff. It’s only a short leap between Barr handing favors to Trump’s convicted buddies and Barr investigating or arresting one of Trump’s political enemies. When an autocrat seizes the power of law and uses it as a weapon, nobody is safe and reasonable people can soon find themselves holding rifles while standing next to freshly dug pits. This isn’t hyperbole, it’s the history of the last one-hundred years.
We have to stand up for our institutions. We have to stand up for the rule of law and the fair application of justice. We have to stand up for an independent legal system and for the rank-and-file professionals who work there to serve us. The Deep State is just code for our institutions of government that keep corruption and tyranny at bay–institutions that liars and grifters like Trump hate because they stand in the way of his misdeeds.
Take this business with Barr very seriously. This is not a drill. We have to put pressure on Congress to take Barr to task, and we have to prevail in November or we may never get another chance.
Keep resisting Trump and keep working to “vote his ass out of office.”