More Signs Of A Budding Authoritarianism

A couple of months ago, in the wake of John Kelly’s ascension to the chief of staff, I wrote about an interview that Joy Reid had with Larry Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff, concerning the disconcerting irony of having so many generals at senior levels of Trump’s civilian government. Wilkerson response was fascinating in that he said that history showed that the political ascension of generals in civilian government was usually indicative of failing empires that had relied on their projection of military power. The military are eventually looked upon as the only ones having the competence and the ability to run the empire. In that same post, I warned that as our democracy fails, the ascension of the generals are also another sign of the rising appeal of authoritarianism. The situation confronting our country today is slightly different, but not by much. These days the generals are viewed openly as the only people competent enough to Trump from starting World War III.

On Thursday, John Kelly’s heartfelt comments were also filled with disgust for modern culture and condescension for everyone not associated with the military. He followed that up by refusing to take questions from reporters who were either not from a Gold Star family or did not know a Gold Star family, freedom of the press be damned.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders followed up Kelly’s authoritarian tendencies by responding to a reporter who pointed out that Kelly’s attack on Representative Wilson was actually a lie by saying “If you want to go after General Kelly, if you want to go after a four-star Marine General, that’s highly inappropriate.” Yes, that’s the White House Press Secretary telling the press they have no right to question a general.

Meanwhile, Trump himself continues down his own authoritarian path. There are 93 US Attorneys scattered across the country. Although there is no legal restriction on a President interviewing individual US Attorneys, the modern traditional practice and norm has always been to respect the independence of the Department of Justice and its federal prosecutors by refraining from personal contact. Strangely, Trump has decided to violate this norm by apparently interviewing just three US Attorneys. Oddly these three would cover the districts responsible for three separate investigations of either Trump properties or the 2016 campaign. Obviously, this is yet another blatant attempt by the President to pervert the course of justice.

As Richard Blumenthal notes, “To be very blunt, these three jurisdictions will have authority to bring indictments over the ongoing special counsel investigation into Trump campaign collusion with the Russians and potential obstruction of justice by the president of the United States. For him to be interviewing candidates for that prosecutor who may in turn consider whether to bring indictments involving him and his administration seems to smack of political interference.”

Worse, Jeff Sessions was asked about this when he testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this week and he responded that he did not know that these interviews were happening but that the President “has the right” to do these interviews. Any other Attorney General would be livid about this infringement on the independence of the DOJ. But, as I have written, Jeff Sessions does not understand the role of the DOJ, instead believing that the department is there to defend the President rather than the Constitution and the rule of law.

Relying on generals to govern while forbidding the press to question their authority and, at the same time, attacking the independence of our justice system are all pretty clear indicators that our democracy and constitutional checks and balances are under attack and seemingly failing.

Originally published at on October 21, 2017.