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“A Chill Wind Blows”: Something More Dangerous Than An Ideological Animosity Toward The Press

Donald Trump, a man who tosses the truth around with the callous disdain of a spoiled child with a toy he has outgrown, has spent much of his campaign calling the media dishonest, even though his manipulation of the media is the only reason he’s the last Republican standing.

He seems to view any unflattering, or otherwise critical, coverage as an attack. His rhetoric suggests that in his mind, adulation is the only honesty.

Such is his wont. And no Republican in a party that continues to veer dangerously toward fact-hostile absolutism has ever lost points with his base by calling the media biased against him.

But there is a strand of these comments and behavior that heralds something more dangerous than an ideological animosity toward the press. Trump keeps signaling that if he had his druthers, he would silence dissent altogether.

At a spectacle of a news conference on Tuesday, Trump laid into reporters for asking simple accountability questions about funds going to charity groups. He even called one reporter a “sleaze” and complained that coverage of his donations to the groups “make me look very bad.”

This isn’t the first time he has used base language to attack reporters with whom he disagreed or was annoyed. The New York Times has collected a comprehensive list of his Twitter insults (often waged against journalists), which simply boggles the mind. (I am among those he has accused of “dishonest reporting.”)

But even that isn’t what’s most troubling. What’s troubling is that under a Trump administration, the First Amendment itself — either in spirit or in law, or both — could be severely weakened. What we have to worry about is a chill wind blowing from the White House.

This is no small thing. Our constitutionally protected freedom of speech and freedom of the press are pillars that make this country great, and different.

Not only did Trump say Tuesday that if he became president he was going to “continue to attack the press,” but in February, he said:

One of the things I’m going to do if I win, and I hope we do and we’re certainly leading. I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money. We’re going to open up those libel laws. So that when The New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace or when The Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.

Exceptions for falsehoods are already part of our libel jurisprudence, but the worrisome nature of that comment lies in its vagueness. What does “open up our libel laws” mean? Is he equating “purposely negative” and “horrible” — both subjective determinations — with “false”?

These principles of free press and free speech, which are almost as old as the country itself, are not things to be tinkered with on the whim of a thin-skinned man who has said flattering things about dictators like North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, ruler of a country that the press watchdog group Freedom House calls “one of the most repressive media environments in the world,” where “listening to unauthorized foreign broadcasts and possessing dissident publications are considered ‘crimes against the state’ that carry serious punishments, including hard labor, prison sentences, and the death penalty.”

It should come as no surprise, then, that this week Time magazine reported that “a North Korean state media outlet has praised Donald Trump as a ‘wise politician’ and ‘farsighted candidate’ who can reunify the Korean Peninsula.”

Trump’s dictatorial instinct to suppress what he deems “negative” speech, particularly from the press, is the very thing the founders worried about.

In 1737, more than 50 years before the Constitution was adopted, signed and ratified — before the First Amendment was adopted — Benjamin Franklin wrote in The Pennsylvania Gazette:

“Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government; when this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved, and tyranny is erected on its ruins. Republics and limited monarchies derive their strength and vigor from a popular examination into the action of the magistrates.”

Our unfettered freedom to interrogate and criticize our government and our leaders are part of our patriotism and an expression of our national fealty.

James Baldwin put it this way: “I love America more than any other country in the world, and exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

And that extends to the country’s politicians.

This idea is so much bigger than Trump, a small man of small thought who is at war with scrutiny.

Freedom of speech and the press are principles that we must protect from this wannabe authoritarian.

 

By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, June 2, 2016

June 6, 2016 Posted by | 1st Amendment, Donald Trump, U. S. Constitution | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Most Dangerous Blot On Our Constitution”: How The House Of Representatives Can Steal The Election For The GOP

While Republicans are busy trying to deny Donald Trump their party’s nomination, another group of conservative strategists is surely developing a more draconian backup plan: call it the Steal It In the House Option.

What might have once seemed inconceivable is now entirely possible this fall: a presidential election decided not by the voters, not even by the Electoral College, but by as few as 26 state delegations in the House of Representatives. If no general election candidate receives a majority of the electoral votes—270—the Constitution requires that the House of Representatives will elect the president.

And if that anti-democratic process isn’t bad enough, consider this perverse clause in the Constitution: each state would receive one vote regardless of population. California, with nearly 40 million citizens, gets one vote. Wyoming, with fewer than 600,000, gets one vote. Go figure.

Each House delegation would caucus and cast that state’s vote. How would that work out this fall? Thirty-two state delegations are controlled by Republicans, 15 by Democrats, three evenly split. The District of Columbia and the territories cannot vote.

Not since the tumultuous election of 1824 has this outcome occurred. Andrew Jackson won both the popular vote and a plurality of electoral votes over John Quincy Adams, but two other candidates won enough electors to deny Jackson a majority. Subsequently, the House of Representatives threw the election to Adams. Jackson’s supporters nearly rioted, and the Tennessean swept Adams out of office four years later.

That’s ancient history, but two scenarios could create a similar electoral mess this year. While an independent presidential candidate is highly unlikely to win the election, there is a growing likelihood that such a campaign could prevent either party nominee from winning outright.

1. Hillary Clinton wins a plurality of electoral votes over Republican nominee Donald Trump, but falls short of the necessary 270. An independent candidate (Rick Perry?) wins a large state such as Texas. House Republicans, repelled by both Trump and Clinton, throw the election to Perry or whoever the independent candidate is—and who finished a very distant third in the voting. (The House can choose from any of the top three vote getters.)

2. The Stop Trump movement succeeds in denying him the nomination, instead choosing Ted Cruz or John Kasich in a brokered convention in Cleveland. Trump launches an independent campaign and wins one or more states, a distinct possibility. Clinton wins a large plurality but fails to reach 270 electoral votes. The House elects Cruz or Kasich.

In either case, the Republican-controlled House, utilizing an arcane provision in the Constitution, subverts the will of American voters and prevents Hillary Clinton from winning the presidency. Farfetched? It’s not hard to imagine a deeply partisan House doing whatever it takes to deny Mrs. Clinton the presidency.

In 1968 George Wallace won five states and 46 electoral votes. It’s not a reach to envision Trump racking up a similar total in 2016, including typically tossup states such as Michigan or Florida.

Texas A&M scholar George Edwards, in Why the Electoral College Is Bad for America, writes, “…it is virtually impossible to find anyone who will defend the selection of the president by the House of Representatives, with each state having one vote. Even the most ardent supporters of the electoral college ignore this most blatant violation of democratic principles.”

There are other, even more bizarre possibilities lurking in November. In more than 20 states electors are not bound to vote for the candidate who wins their state. Could pressure be exerted to convince a few ”faithless” electors to switch to another candidate? While unlikely, in this election cycle anything seems possible.

Should such a political apocalypse occur this year, there is a silver lining. Perhaps Congress would then move to abolish an anachronistic system of filling the most powerful office in the world. That would certainly please the ghost of Thomas Jefferson, who wrote after surviving the first contingency presidential election:

“I have ever considered the constitutional mode of election…as the most dangerous blot on our Constitution, and one which some unlucky chance will some day hit.”

 

By: Roy Neel, The Daily Beast, April 16, 2016

 

 

 

April 17, 2016 Posted by | Democracy, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, House of Representatives, U. S. Constitution | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Illogical And Irresponsible”: GOP Response To Supreme Court Nomination Makes No Sense And Could Have Big Consequences

We are just beginning to see the consequences of the Senate Republicans’ refusal to consider President Barack Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court. On Tuesday, the court deadlocked 4-4 on a case involving public sector unions. The tied decision left current law in place, a victory for the unions, but not necessarily a victory for our system of government.

The decision is the second deadlock to come out of the court since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February. Last week, the court was evenly split on a case regarding possible bank discrimination.

How long can an evenly split court continue to function? Even in the face of the recent deadlocked decisions, Senate Republicans still refuse to consider the nomination of Merrick Garland for the seat left vacant by Scalia. Their refusal to move forward promises to render an entire branch of our government completely moot.

In a piece for Politico this week, University of Michigan Law School Professor Richard Primus sounds the alarm about the consequences of an incomplete court. He wrote: “A court with eight justices will often deadlock in contested cases, and therefore fail to execute the court’s major function: providing resolution on constitutional issues where the lower courts disagree.” A court that can’t function effectively is dangerous to the delicate balance of power our democracy is built upon. It disables an entire branch of government, removing an important check on the other two. Republicans’ refusal to consider Obama’s nominee means the U.S. Senate is failing in its duty to ensure the continuity of our government and move the country forward. They should reverse course immediately.

Consideration of the nominee does not equate to confirmation. If, after thoroughly vetting Garland, Senate Republicans still find him objectionable, they can vote him down and invite Obama to submit another nominee. This process can continue until both sides arrive at a mutually agreeable result. But to insist that because Obama is in his last year of office the province of filling the Supreme Court vacancy belongs to someone else is irresponsible.

Following that line of thought, all of the House and one-third of the Senate should refrain from voting on anything during election years in case their potential successors might decide something differently. Office holders do not vacate their powers and responsibilities until they are out of office. Obama is still the president. He can take us to war, sign bills into law and nominate Supreme Court Justices. The logic behind the Senate Republicans’ actions is flawed and can have far-reaching consequences.

For over 200 years now, this country has been blessed with peaceful transitions of power that have ensured the survival of our democracy. Administrations have come and gone and political parties have won and lost without creating the instability that is rampant in other parts of the world. This has happened, for the most part, because everyone involved has respected the system enough to let it work. Senate Republicans should let the system work and consider Obama’s choice for the Supreme Court. Any other course of action starts to put our stability at risk.

 

By: Cary Gibson, Thomas Jefferson Street Blog, U. S. News and World Report, April 1, 2016

April 3, 2016 Posted by | Democracy, Senate Republicans, U. S. Constitution, U. S. Supreme Court Nominees | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Government Stumps Trump”: Donald’s Lack Of Understanding Of The Government’s Basic Functions Is Distressing

It is democratic, not elitist, to believe that all citizens should understand the two bedrock principles – separation of powers and federalism – upon which the American government rests. The framers enshrined these precepts in our Constitution to protect our individual liberty. For when power is distributed – either across the governing branches or between the states and the national government – tyrants are frustrated.

Yet, during Tuesday’s town hall interview on CNN, Donald Trump – no mere citizen but the leading presidential candidate in the Republican Party – revealed once again his knowledge deficit about our political system.

For those who skipped that middle hour of nonsensical rhetoric, an Army veteran and current Marquette University student asked an important, albeit simple question, “What are the top three functions of the United States government?”

Trump was stumped. With the exception of national security, he couldn’t seem to think of what other key duties were within the federal government’s purview. What about promoting justice (equality under the law), encouraging interstate commerce and managing our international relations? What about, in language more common among the framers, ensuring “domestic tranquility“?

Simply put, he seemed to not understand that when our government was established, it had only three cabinet departments – Defense (War), State and Treasury – because these are the feds’ main jobs: conducting war, promoting peace and encouraging prosperity.

Further, the other two functions that Trump named – health care and education – are not only not central to the national government’s mission, but they are generally understood, by an overwhelming majority of conservatives, to be activities that fall within the states’ police power. In other words, Trump’s answers showed that his political ideology is much closer to Democratic presidential hopeful and independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders than to former President Ronald Reagan.

Perhaps, it shouldn’t be surprising. Throughout his campaign and without much consequence, Trump has been dismissive of separation of powers, civil liberties and civil rights. In fact, the only time he has really been pressed on constitutional issues was when he was forced to walk back his bluster earlier this month, after he had wrongly assumed that a president could order the military to torture prisoners of war.

Still, as a political scientist who agrees with former President Harry Truman’s observation that “it takes a lifetime of experience to understand how much the Constitution means to our national life,” Trump’s willful ignorance of our system is both shocking and distressing.

The only good news is that if Trump were to become president (by some strange twist of fate), he would quickly learn that he is no match for our governing system. His ignorance would be our nation’s saving grace. The framers were extraordinarily wise men.

 

By: Lara Brown, Thomas Jefferson Street Blog, U. S. News and World Report, March 31, 2016

April 1, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Federal Government, U. S. Constitution | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“A Meaningful Deterrent”: Senate Republicans Rediscover The Value Of ‘Pinata Politics’

Almost exactly 10 years ago, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) was concerned about Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito facing “attacks” from Senate Democrats. Eventually, the Texas Republican said at the time, senators “will need to come to terms with our confirmation process.” Cornyn added that treating nominees “more like pinatas than human beings” is “something none of us should be willing to tolerate.”

That was when there was a Republican president in the White House. Now that President Obama is the one doing the nominating, Cornyn is apparently less concerned about Pinata Politics.

Even though Senate Republicans have no intention of holding hearings on President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, that doesn’t mean he or she won’t be dragged through the mud.

And the chamber’s No. 2 Republican made that clear to a small cluster of reporters Monday, saying he believed the nominee, “will bear some resemblance to a pinata.”

A decade ago, Cornyn characterized this as “something none of us should be willing to tolerate,” but this year, one gets the impression that the Senate Majority Whip not only tolerates the same practices he denounced, he also intends to be one of the lawmakers holding the stick, swinging for candy.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was unimpressed with the rhetoric. “Senator Cornyn has now taken the next step and suggested – without knowing who this nominee is, without considering what their record is, what their experience is, how qualified they are for the job – he is suggesting that they’ll be subjected to bashing by Republicans,” Earnest told reporters yesterday. “It’s unclear for what reason, other than the president of the United States has chosen to fulfill his constitutional responsibility to nominate someone to fill a vacancy.”

That said, if Cornyn and the GOP’s tolerance for Pinata Politics is intended to intimidate potential nominees – “It’s a nice career you have there, it’d be a shame if we had to beat you with a stick” – it might be working.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval’s (R) was floated as a possible choice for the Supreme Court, though he soon after withdrew his name from consideration. Yesterday, as MSNBC reported, a high-profile member of the president’s cabinet did the same thing.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch has “asked not to be considered” for nomination to the Supreme Court to take the spot formerly occupied by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, the Justice Department said Tuesday.

Today, The Hill reported that another possible contender also bowed out.

Federal Appellate Judge Adalberto Jordan has taken himself out of consideration to become President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, CNN reported Wednesday.

 The Miami-based judge was reportedly a contender to fill the vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia and would have been the first Cuban-American to sit on the high court.

Of course, people may have all kinds of reasons to withdraw from consideration, but it’s easy to imagine Republican rhetoric about pinatas serving as a meaningful deterrent.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 9, 2016

March 11, 2016 Posted by | John Cornyn, Senate Republicans, U. S. Constitution, U. S. Supreme Court Nominees | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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