Trump’s dictator flirtations reflect his Big Business past

Donald Trump, Kim Jong Un

Trump met with North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, one of the worst human rights violators on earth today, and came away feeling very charmed.

On June 12, President Donald Trump and Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un made history in the first-ever summit between an American and North Korean head of state. The two met in Singapore to discuss the North Korean nuclear weapons program and, according to President Trump’s account, got along splendidly.

Reactions to the meeting were mixed, but even many of Trump’s harshest critics acknowledged an air of cautious optimism following the summit. Getting along with another country, even one as brutal and oppressive as North Korea, is undeniably preferable to a global nuclear war. Yet there’s a big line between reaching a détente with North Korea and propping their dictatorial cult state up as a model for the world. Trump crossed that line repeatedly in statements he made after the meeting.

In an interview with Sean Hannity, Trump said of Kim, “He’s got a very good personality, he’s funny, and he’s very, very smart.” When pressed in a later interview on Kim’s miserable human rights record – including the execution of political rivals and the imprisonment of his people in gulags – Trump brushed the criticism aside, praising Kim’s toughness and ability to assume power at such the young age of 27. Trump also praised the obedience of Kim’s “people,” adding, “I want my people to do the same,” and expressed envy at the wall-to-wall positive coverage of North Korea’s state-run media.

Trump’s comments reveal a great deal about the way he wishes he could run America. Kim is far from the only authoritarian leader Trump has publicly praised. When Chinese President Xi Jinping announced an end to presidential term limits, effectively making himself president-for-life, Trump said, “Maybe we’ll give that a shot.” Trump suggested that America should emulate Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s policy of executing drug dealers. His praise for Vladimir Putin is legend, and admiration between the two strongmen is mutual. Meanwhile, Trump is straining relationships with democratic allies like Canada, France and Germany.

There’s a reason Trump likes dictators so much: he’s lived his entire life as one. The Trump Organization is privately held. Unlike a publicly traded corporation, there is no Board of Directors and no shareholders. Trump has never been answerable to anyone in his adult life. He gives an order and either it’s obeyed or somebody loses their job. When Kim Jong-un gives an order, either it’s obeyed or somebody loses their life. Trump has a much easier time relating to that than he does accepting the constraints of American democracy.

Recently, reports revealed that President Trump regularly rips documents to pieces, from memos to newspaper clippings that he’s scribbled on. In order to comply with the Presidential Records Act, which requires all documents the president handles to be preserved as historical records, staffers in the White House diligently tape these shredded documents back together. Those staffers are the only people ensuring that Trump, who cannot be bothered to file his records properly, complies with the law.

For someone who lies as casually as he breathes, the idea of permanent records or following protocol are surely foreign to Trump. He ran his businesses completely without ethics or accountability, regularly stiffing contractors and leaving employees without work after his many bankruptcies. Unlike every president and major party nominee since Jimmy Carter, Trump has never voluntarily released his tax returns. He has never had to explain himself truthfully or had anyone look into his affairs too closely.

The accountability of public office is far less attractive to Trump than the unquestioned authority of a dictatorship. That is the mode in which he has always operated. He is flailing wildly against the restrictions put on him by the Constitution, American laws, and the press. It remains to be seen just how many of our civic institutions are eroded by the end of his presidency. Backed by relentlessly positive coverage on FOX News and Breitbart that would be the envy of any dictator, he is in the process of inflicting unprecedented damage to the rule of law and our already-limited democracy.

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Donald Trump and the right-wing presumption of innocence

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Right-wing media is universally friendly to Trump, taking his innocence for granted and echoing his conspiracy theories about the investigation into his shady world.

President Donald Trump has escalated his attacks on the special counsel investigating his campaign’s alleged ties to Russian election interference. Last week Trump unleashed a torrent of tweets in an attempt to undermine the investigation’s credibility. Even as a deluge of shady new information about Trump associates pours in daily, from his personal attorney to his own children and son-in-law, conservative talking heads have dug in their heels behind the president more defiantly than ever. Continue reading

Reminder: Torture is not our only crime

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Gina Haspel, who oversaw a CIA black site in Thailand, is poised to become the agency’s new director.

The Senate is prepared to confirm Gina Haspel, a longtime CIA official, to replace Mike Pompeo as the agency’s director. During her confirmation hearings, Haspel’s role in overseeing CIA torture programs – or “enhanced interrogation” – was a focal point. Haspel made headlines when she refused to answer Senator Kamala Harris’s question of whether “the previous interrogation techniques were immoral.” Her record on torture led Republican Senator John McCain, famously a torture survivor himself, to announce his opposition to her appointment. Continue reading

The Second Amendment, the NRA, and the quest to militarize American life

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Parkland shooting survivor-turned-activist Emma Gonzalez (left) grills NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch on gun control.

The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution is one of the most hotly debated pieces of text in history. For devotees, it guarantees the most important freedom ever enshrined in a government document. For critics, it is a dangerous relic of colonial history with little relevance to modern life. Continue reading

Three easy gun control solutions

parkland protest

One of many gun control rallies takes place in Parkland, Florida. The protests have inspired numerous sympathetic demonstrations across the nation.

In the wake of a Valentine’s Day slaughter at a Florida high school that left 17 people dead, lawmakers, pundits and the American people are debating solutions to gun violence more fervently than they have in years. For perhaps the first time, the NRA is facing real consequences over its drive to militarize every facet of American life, with several major companies severing ties with the powerful lobbying group. But despite the courageous protests of youth across the country, real political action still feels far away.

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Childhood’s End: The young have become the moral voice of America

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Students of Hellgate High School in Missoula, Montana stage a walk-out. One sign reads, “Protect kids not guns.” Dozens of similar protests have erupted across the country in the past week.

For the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, Valentine’s Day will forever memorialize the massacre of 17 of their classmates and teachers at the hands of a disgruntled man with a legally acquired AR-15. While shootings of varying severity are now depressingly common at American schools, this incident stood out from others. This is partly because of its high body count, but it’s been unique in another, more important way: it birthed some courageous student activists.

No longer content for their bodies to be the “price of freedom,” nor to accept the now-familiar deadly cycle of school shooting followed by thoughts and prayers followed by NRA hysteria followed by political inaction followed by school shooting, children are aware that it’s their lives at risk and they are doing something about it. Continue reading

How establishment Republicans learned to stop worrying and love Donald Trump

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Hannity’s sources are now telling him that, yeah, maybe the president did want to obstruct justice by firing the special counsel investigating him. So what? Isn’t that his right?

Late last week, The New York Times reported that President Trump ordered the firing of Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating suspected crimes by the Trump campaign, transition, and administration. Mueller was put in place last year after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, the man previously leading the investigation. Trump’s attorney and White House counsel, Donald McGahn, threatened to resign rather than carry out the June 2017 order to fire Mueller, and Trump backed off.

In a sea of massive Trump scandals, this should be one of the biggest. It’s the clearest indication yet of Trump’s desire to obstruct an investigation into he and his inner circle’s financial ties to Russian oligarchs and, potentially, their cooperation with a campaign of cyber warfare against the American people. That investigation, which Trump continually derides as entirely phony, has already ensnared high-level Trump aides and campaign officials like Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, and Carter Page.

Yet Republicans have been mostly mum on the Times report. Senator Lindsey Graham, often a representative for the establishment vanguard against Trump, warned, “if he tried to [fire Mueller], it would be the end of his presidency.” Despite the strong words, no action has been taken. Meanwhile, Trump has enlisted a growing chorus of Republican pundits and politicians to undermine the special counsel and, indeed, just about any institution responsible for holding him accountable. Continue reading

Jeff Sessions re-declares war on pot

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One way Sessions and Trump want to #MAGA: trample states’ rights and throw more people in jail over a plant.

On January 4, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole Memo, an Obama-era directive that recommended a hands-off approach to the enforcement of federal marijuana laws in states that legalized it for recreational or medicinal use. Prior to the Cole Memo, federal authorities clashed routinely with legal pot businesses, especially in states like California. The memo substantially slowed the prosecution of state-sanctioned pot growers, sellers, and users. In rescinding the memo, Sessions declared his intent to re-escalate the war on pot. Continue reading

America: Democracy in Reverse

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Whenever this many rich people celebrate together, be wary.

America is sometimes characterized in its most exultant propaganda as the shining city upon a hill, history’s greatest experiment in self-governance. In the wee hours of December 2, though, it failed to live up to that marvelous hype. What happened in the United States Senate that day was a travesty that can accurately be described as democracy in reverse. An unpopular group of lawmakers passed an extremely unpopular bill, which will eventually be signed into law by an extremely unpopular president for the benefit of a small number of citizens. Continue reading

Republicans abandon all pretense of public service

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President Trump appears with two powerful members of his administration, both Goldman Sachs alumni. Gary Cohn is on the left and Steve Mnuchin is in the middle.

If there’s one thing the Republican Party can be counted on to do, it’s lower the tax burden of wealthy Americans. They’re in the midst of an effort to do so right now, and one bill recently passed in the House of Representatives. But the bill is massively unpopular, with only 25 percent of Americans approving of it. Republicans have a remarkably candid response when pressed as to why they are pushing such unpopular and destructive legislation: it’s to please their donors. Continue reading