Trump Lashes Out As Bureaucracy, Judiciary Restrains Him

As Masha Gessen warned, it is easy to fall into the trap of normalization when it comes to Donald Trump’s behavior. I have warned about it in many posts over the last few months. Yet even I just treated Trump’s twitter storm against the District Court judge’s nationwide suspension of the Muslim ban as just Trump being Trump. It wasn’t until reading outraged reactions from others that I realized how dangerous Trump’s comments were and how easily I had fallen into the habit of just normalizing Trump’s behavior.

Apparently, the State Department and the DHS are complying with the court order even as Trump goes on the rampage against the judge And he’s not letting it go, following up with even more tweets later today. Here is the sum of his tweets, “When a country is no longer able to say who can, and who cannot , come in & out, especially for reasons of safety &.security — big trouble!”;”The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!”;”What is our country coming to when a judge can halt a Homeland Security travel ban and anyone, even with bad intentions, can come into U.S.?” This kind of attack on the judicial branch by the executive branch is unprecedented in modern times. But, with Trump, it takes on the guise of normal and even expected.

You can see why Kelly at Homeland Security and Mattis at Defense were overwhelmingly confirmed by the Senate as they were clearly going to provide some sane bureaucratic limitations on Trump and his alter-ego, Bannon. In fact, a report in today’s Washington Post indicates that Kelly and Bannon had a stand-off over the Muslim ban’s inclusion of green card holders. On the Saturday night immediately after the Muslim ban was announced, Kelly decided to issue a waiver for all green card holders from the seven effected countries. Bannon apparently went to Kelly’s office at the DHS and ordered him not to issue the waiver. Kelly, ever the military man, respectfully told Bannon he did not report to him, he reported to the President. Later that evening, having not heard from the President, Kelly went ahead and issued the order which was publicly announced on Sunday. That did not stop Bannon from still pushing the issue. A 2am Sunday phone call pitted Bannon and his sidekick Stephen Miller against Kelly, Mattis, Tillerson (who had yet to be confirmed as Secretary of State), and national security adviser Flynn. Kelly, Mattis, and Flynn are all ex-military and stressed the need for proper coordination with the agencies responsible and Tillerson supported them. Later on Sunday, a larger meeting which include Kushner, Priebus, and finally Trump himself agreed to a more coordinated process of involving cabinet agencies going forward.

In many ways, this battle reflects the difference in attitudes between owners of private companies and those who have to work in collaborative organizations, such as government and the military. Trump, Bannon, Kushner, and many in Trump’s billionaire cabinet inhabit worlds where whatever they decide or say goes. Yes, there is some input form others and some political infighting but they know they hold the ultimate power. That is far different from the generals who have spent years managing and maneuvering complex bureaucracies. In standing up to Bannon and winning, Kelly won the first skirmish in what will be a constant battle with Trump and Bannon.

The question is how Trump and Bannon will react when they see themselves as being constantly thwarted, either by the executive bureaucracy or the judicial branch. As we can see from these tweets today, Trump is not taking it well. The question is how far is he willing to go. Trump’s firing of the acting Attorney General is not a positive indicator.

More importantly it is clear that the battle to save our democracy has been joined. Career bureaucrats had already started their fight but now it has been joined by Trump appointees. The legal system is standing firm so far even as it is under attack. And Republicans in Congress are facing a backlash they can’t believe. So, yes, there are glimmers of hope and our institutions are working. But as I myself experienced, it is so easy to fall into the trap of thinking this is normal and that our institutions are working and will save us. It ain’t necessarily so. It will take constant vigilance and relentless resistance.


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