The current situation is strange. The AG is telling the president to not tweet about his department. Yet, the actions of the president are consistent with what Attorney General Bill Barr believes in, even if he protests too much. This is an imperial presidency with no limits. What Barr describes as the rights for the president are those of either a dictator or an absolute king. Ergo, if the ruler wants to give an opinion in a case before the courts, that is his right. It’s so bad that President Donald Trump now believes he is the chief law enforcement officer in the country. He is not. That is the AG.
AG Barr now is protesting this. He does not like the tweets from the president. He may be bothered That the president went public with his desires. It will make his job on behalf of Trump harder. But AG Barr believes the president is correct.
He does not mind that the president wants to use the Department of Justice for his own ends. An imperial president should have all available to him. And here lies the problem. The project the Founders worked on did not have a king. This was a model with a strict balance of powers, and a system of justice where no one was above the law. This is also a justice system where the wheels are not used to favor those who the president likes, and to pursue enemies of the state.
The latter is obviously anybody who is critical of the President.
This is precisely what King George III did. He used the king's justice to pursue those that were his enemies. He had his enemies hung for treason. He controlled the communications of his era as much as he could. And he used the state in an absolute manner as he could.
Louis XIV went so far as to declare himself the state. And in some of his comments, the president has gone almost as far. The only limits are guard rails that are quickly failing as we careen towards a dictatorship. He is trampling over the Constitution he swore to uphold.
There are calls for Barr to step down. Why? It is beyond obvious that he sees Trump as the proverbial absolute ruler. The actions of both men have already damaged the institution. Trump would be nuts to fire him since Barr is his Roy Cohn. However, Trump cannot stand any negative attention to any of his administration. This is the narcissism in him.
Most Americans are familiar with police states via propaganda, history or dystopian fiction. We like to pretend that the United States is special and this could never happen here. However, it can and it is. We are several steps already into a totalitarian state. The president has also “joked” that perhaps he will not leave the White House. He is already questioning the election.
This is not unprecedented, or strange. He is following a well-trodden pattern. One that historians are very familiar with. The attacks on institutions are not accidental. Nor is the questioning of democracy itself. If there is an error that many Americans are making is under-estimating the extent of the threat.
This is also not unusual. The best-known example that Americans reference often are the Nazis, and Hitler’s rise to power. There are some chilling parallels, not because nazis, but because the pattern was the same as Italy and other authoritarian regimes. The Republicans still believe they can control Trump. So did the conservatives in Germany during the early rise and the industrialists who greatly benefited from the early economic policies.
The attacks on the media started very early, just as they have in the United States. After all, the fake media reported facts, and needed to be destroyed, and rebuilt in the party’s image. In the US we are several steps into that, with the far right-wing media alternate universe. Whether it’s Fox, Breitbart or the Daily Caller, all these mostly report an alternate reality creating internal enemies, dangerous foreigners and a great economy. They are also responsible for things like the deep state. A version of this existed in Germany as well.
Dividing the nation is also part of the plan. A united country will be able to fight off a dictator with some ease. A divided country is easier to take over. This is why the president has done precious little to unify the nation. Instead, he is doing all he can to feed his base the reddest and bloodiest of red meat. This is essential for the dictator. The creation of strong in-groups surrounded by enemies set to destroy them. It was hardly different for the Brown Shirts, or the Black Shirts.
This is where the deep state conspiracy theory lies, and it was also critical for those previous movements. The elites are opposed to the movement. They control all the levers of power and will destroy the leader at the first opportunity. In Germany, this led to the night of the long knives. We have to wonder if some of Trump’s actions have been a less bloody version of this.
The hollowing of institutions is part of it. The current frontal attack against a professional Justice Department is hardly accidental. A dictator needs a justice system that will bend to his needs. One that is fair, and mostly blind, is against his goals.
To be brutal, if your hair is not on fire, it should.