By Roger Bowen
For someone who told the United Nations General Assembly one year ago that “We reject the ideology of globalism,” Donald Trump has broad global business interests — 119 in Turkey, 115 in China and 121 in the Philippines — and two of his three wives were born abroad. Trump likes investment opportunities in nations ruled by autocrats, and seems to prefer having wives born in what was once the dark side of the “iron curtain.” The President, who lost the popular vote in 2016 despite Russia’s heavy-handed assistance, sees the world and its wealth as his oyster.
Trump gave autocratic Turkish president Erdogan a green light to invade northern Syria and to cast out, if not slaughter, Turkish, Syrian and Iraqi Kurds, all of whom played a major role in defeating ISIS, even though the American strongman likes to portray the defeat of the Islamic State as his own victory. Similarly, Trump is quiet about Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its military occupation of eastern Ukraine, even as he and his minions leveraged military aid to Ukraine to extort illicit political favors from its president.
Trump’s preference for autocrats, his disdain toward allies (and his own intelligence agencies) and his nonstop pursuit of expanding his own personal business empire combine to make the head of the world’s oldest democracy into a self-aggrandizing, lawless, unethical, unstable and unprincipled despot.
Who is guarding our democracy against Trump’s dangerous behavior? No member of his ever-changing cabinet. Those not fired or indicted are sycophants, “yes folks” eager to curry Trump’s favor. Not the Justice Department, now headed by an attorney general who believes the power of the POTUS should not be tethered. Not our constitutional “separation of powers” because Trump treats Congress not as a co-equal branch but instead as either an obstacle — the Democratic-controlled House — or as an enabler — the Republican-controlled Senate. And certainly not the U.S. Supreme Court that has now installed two right-wing Trump cronies, thanks in no small part to Maine Sen. Susan Collins, who once said that Trump was “unfit” to be president.
The founders of our democracy saw government as a necessary evil that if not checked could run roughshod over the citizenry. Creating three separate but coequal branches of government — legislative, executive and judicial — relied on countervailing powers that were intended to mute the worst tendencies of each branch. The Bill of Rights also acted to protect individual citizens of government overreach.
The system has not always worked well, but it has worked, at least until recently. Trump has transmogrified the executive branch into an autocracy and has tried to rule by expanding its powers, including the overuse of executive orders, a practice condemned by Republicans during Obama’s two terms but now applauded by the GOP. And by refusing to recognize the constitutional power of the House of Representatives, which has the responsibility to impeach a lawless president, Trump’s White House has arrogated for itself the power to deny Congress’s powers of oversight.
The United States today is not like the Weimar Republic of 1930s Germany when Adolf Hitler was elected chancellor. America’s democratic traditions are too strong to yield easily to a tyrant. But today resistance to Trump’s autocracy is limited to largely the Democratic Party and independent voters, a fact that underscores the deep partisan divisions in our nation.
To date, Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah has pretty much stood alone among Republican leadership in decrying Trump’s autocratic excesses, although Lisa Murkowski of Alaska is beginning to show some spine. Lower courts have stymied some of Trump’s most inhumane initiatives, but the highly partisan Supreme Court dominated by conservatives cannot be counted on to stop Trump.
Well over half of all Americans support the impeachment inquiry now underway. That number needs to grow, but it will not unless several more moderate Republicans — are you listening, Sen. Collins? — resist Moscow Mitch and his power-hungry Fuhrer. Moderate Republicans need to argue forcefully, and in public, for Trump to stop stonewalling, to give to the House the documents it is seeking and the Trump loyalists they wish to question, and to reclaim the importance of separation of powers.
Trump’s phone call with the Ukranian president and his unilateral decision to permit Turkey to invade Syria may well be the impetus needed for moderate Republicans to stand up to Trump’s bullying and help House Democrats as they desperately attempt to restore constitutional and democratic norms.
Roger Bowen of Prospect Harbor is a political scientist and is author of several books, most recently “Japan’s Dysfunctional Democracy.”