Americans are witnessing a slow-motion coup

Rule of law be damned, President Trump was mad as hell and casting around looking for a reason to fire James Comey

Americans are witnessing a slow-motion coup
(Credit: Getty/Shutterstock/Salon)

Less than a day after the firing of FBI Director James Comey, it’s becoming clear that Trump has conspired with his attorney general and deputy attorney general to make any sort of realistic oversight or investigation of him and his administration as difficult as possible, if not impossible.

All political power is being concentrated in the office of the president. All law enforcement power is being concentrated in the office of the attorney general and, when it comes to enforcing the law regarding the Trump campaign and its contacts with elements of the Russian government, in the office of the deputy attorney general. The letters justifying Comey’s firing were generated by a man who had been in office less than two weeks and acted upon only hours after their receipt by the White House without any sort of reasonable consultation with anyone else but these three men. They have turned their offices into black holes into which things are meant to disappear without investigation or enforcement.

Unless the three men occupying these offices decide otherwise, there are no mechanisms to enforce the laws with respect to the Trump administration and contacts by Trump or his people with elements of the Russian government. Without, as the Constitution mandates, the “equal protection of the law,” we don’t really have a government and our democracy is crippled. What we have instead is an authoritarian regime run by a few men for the personal and political benefit of one man, President Trump. No one else benefits — not the citizens, not the systems by which we have until now governed ourselves, not the people who staff those systems, not the people occupying the other elective offices of the government. Only Trump.

With the powers he has aggregated to himself, he can rule by fiat. He doesn’t have to listen to anyone. He doesn’t have to make any excuses. He doesn’t have to explain his decisions. He is free to make up shit like they did today with the letters justifying Comey’s firing. He is not answerable for the entirely transparent lies behind his actions. He is free to fire Comey in order to bring the Russiagate investigation to a halt and sit back and tell an entirely absurd lie that it’s all about what happened with Hillary Clinton and her emails almost a year ago. The only thing standing between Trump and a form of absolute rule heretofore unknown in this country is the power to impeach.

By this morning television anchors and commentators on the cable news shows were using the word impeachment not just as a possibility but as a realistic topic of political discourse in the nation. It’s dawning on even the dimmest of dim bulb talking heads that this is a constitutional crisis with the rule of law at stake. I heard “not a nation of men but of laws” more than once. Political analysts and not a few congressmen and senators are astounded by Trump’s obvious political cluelessness. They are openly calling him a demagogue. Historian John Meacham referred to Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ appearance on “Morning Joe” as “the talking points of a strongman . . . strongman as one word, not two.”

The White House continued during the day with a full-court press of bogus talking points. Kellyanne Conway, Sarah Huckabee Sanders and even Vice President Mike Pence made themselves available to anyone waving a microphone to parrot the same line: Trump’s actions were the actions of a “decisive, strong leader.” He “took the recommendation of the deputy attorney general and acted.”

Historian Meacham described the talking points as “authoritarian talk,” adding, “They’re trying to bully their way through this.”

The White House’s rationale for firing Comey is transparent bullshit. Trump spent the final days of the campaign last year actually praising Comey. If Trump is now so upset by Comey’s handling of the Clinton email investigation and worries about the damage he’s done to the FBI, he had two distinct opportunities to make a decision that Comey had to go. The first was during the transition period, when Trump and his people were making key decisions about the individuals they would staff their administration with. The second opportunity was between Jan. 20 and March 20, before Comey announced to the world that Trump and his people had been under FBI criminal and counterintelligence investigation since July.

According to Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Trump “forfeited his opportunity” to fire Comey after March 20, because from that day forward, everyone knew that Trump was in legal and political jeopardy due to the FBI criminal investigation.

Politico was up early this morning quoting two sources in the White House that Comey’s firing has been in the works for more than a week: “He had grown enraged by the Russia investigation, two advisers said, frustrated by his inability to control the mushrooming narrative around Russia. He repeatedly asked aides why the Russia investigation wouldn’t disappear and demanded they speak out for him. He would sometimes scream at television clips about the probe, one adviser said.” White House cluelessness on full display.

“The fallout seemed to take the White House by surprise,” Politico reported. “Trump made a round of calls around 5 p.m., asking for support from senators. White House officials believed it would be a ‘win-win’ because Republicans and Democrats alike have problems with the FBI director, one person briefed on their deliberations said.”

How incredibly clueless is Trump that he would think this would work? Did he really expect them to endorse his obvious cover-up? Who came up with this insane strategy? Do they really think when the man who is under investigation fires the guy investigating him that people are going to buy it? Do they think nobody remembers when former President Richard Nixon fired the special prosecutor Archibald Cox? Watergate isn’t water under the bridge; it’s history. And there are still people in Washington who know that Archibald Cox wasn’t a character on “The Simpsons” and the night Nixon fired him was called the Saturday Night Massacre. Trump’s pathetic political naïveté is coming into focus. If this is his best game, it’s the fourth quarter: He’s down by double digits; he’s the quarterback and his name isn’t Brady.

Despite Trump’s desperation and the mistakes he seems to make every single day, it will take enormous outrage by the citizenry, and an act of enormous political will by their representatives, to bring a halt to this this authoritarian madness. Our government belongs to us — not to him. Unless we teach him this lesson, we deserve everything he does to us with the power he has so nakedly and corruptly seized in this slow-motion coup.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist and screenwriter. He has covered stories such as Watergate, the Stonewall riots and wars in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels and several unsuccessful motion pictures. He has three children, lives on the East End of Long Island and spends his time Worrying About the State of Our Nation and madly scribbling in a so-far fruitless attempt to Make Things Better. He can be followed on Facebook at The Rabbit Hole and on Twitter @LucianKTruscott.
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