Can Anything Stop Trump’s Descent Into Totalitarianism?

Over the last week, Donald Trump didn’t just stage a temper tantrum and refuse to work with congress until they cease their oversight of the executive branch. He also went on to affirm his accusations of treason against the FBI in the context of a question about it being a crime punishable by death and referred to Mueller’s team of investigators as “killers.” Then he gave his attorney general carte blanche to selectively leak classified information from his investigation of the FBI, even as they stonewall the legal subpoenas issued by congress.

In case you have any doubts about where all of this is headed, take a look at this exchange between Chuck Todd and Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

CHUCK TODD: Does [Trump] expect criminal charges, does he expect — he’s accused James Comey of treason. Does he expect Jim Comey to be arrested?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: Again, we’re going to let the attorney general make that determination as he gets to the conclusion of this investigation.

TODD: So the president, he’s not going to accept …

SANDERS: But we certainly expect the people that were responsible and that were a part of this unprecedented obstruction and corruption at the FBI, those people should certainly be held responsible and be held accountable, and the president expects that to take place.

TODD: So he expects an outcome that he wants, not an outcome that the facts lead to.

SANDERS: Chuck, I think you’re trying to muddy the waters too much here. We already know, once again, that there was wrongdoing. Now we want to know how much there was.

TODD: I think what’s rich is who’s muddying waters.

SANDERS: Well, I don’t think it’s crazy to want to know how far and how wide the corruption at the FBI was, and that’s what the president has asked the attorney general to find, and we’ll see what happens.

According to the White House press secretary, we already know that the FBI is corrupt and so the attorney general’s investigation is merely to determine how wide the corruption was.

Trump advisor Corey Lewandowski took it even further for Fox News viewers.

Lewandowski forecasts criminal referrals coming soon with trials next spring. Now that Joe Biden leads polling for the 2020 Democratic nomination, he has become a target. Lewandowski suggested that, “the [Mueller] investigation which was launched came from somewhere inside the White House to greenlight Clapper, Comey, and Brennan to start this investigation into Donald Trump for no valid reason.” So of course, they’re going to try to pin the whole thing on the former vice-president.

I don’t think that Michael Tomasky is overstating things when he writes that what we are about to witness “will be a nightmare beyond the imagination of any novelist who has yet tried to capture and describe totalitarian, hall-of-mirrors horror, from Koestler to Orwell to Kundera or anyone else. They were all describing how a regime gets away with it in a totalitarian state. But these people will be getting away with it in a democracy.”

To the extent that Tomasky is right, we would all be wise to start asking how this could be happening. As we’ve seen, Trump’s enablers in the White House and on Fox News are busy promoting this president’s most outrageous behavior from last week. What about congressional Republicans? Representative Liz Cheney, whose job as chair of the House Republican Conference is to communicate the party’s message to its members, actually affirmed that what the FBI did could well be treason.

You can watch the full interview here. Note that not once does Martha Raddatz challenge the way that the definition of treason is being twisted, nor the claims Cheney made, which are all based on lies.

Meanwhile, the response of the court evangelicals is to ask their followers to pray for a president who they suggest is under attack by his enemies.

The reason this is happening in our country right now is that the president’s enablers in right-wing media, congressional Republicans, and court evangelicals are all willing to stand behind him as he uses the Justice Department to go after those he has determined to be his enemies.

But that isn’t all. While there are those in the mainstream media like Tomasky who are ringing alarm bells, too many of them are not. Martha Raddatz, who failed to challenge Liz Cheney, went on to host a roundtable discussion that was supposedly about the week’s news. She and her guests talked almost exclusively about Democrats, covering their views on disagreements over how to proceed with investigations, the false claim that they can’t legislate, and the horse race in the 2020 primary. In other words, they completely ignored the elephant in the room, which is a president who is careening this country into totalitarianism.

I used Martha Raddatz as an example because she has traditionally been one of the more serious journalists covering politics. But I believe there are a couple of factors at work as the mainstream media ignores what this president and his enablers are doing: (1) it has become old news to call the president out on his outrageous behavior, so it has simply become the new normal, and (2) journalists remain steeped in the bothsiderism of viewing all politics through the lens of partisanship, as we saw with Cokie Roberts recently.

The reason Trump is likely to get away with this nightmare is that, for a variety of reasons, there is no mechanism in this country right now for sounding the alarm bells. Of course we’re not going to see it from right-wing propaganda outlets. But we’re also not going to see it from Republican leaders or court evangelicals. It is clear that there is no “bottom” to which Trump can sink that they won’t go with him. Finally, when it comes to major media outlets,they are so fearful of appearing to be partisan that they cling fiercely to bothsiderism.

Those who suggest that Democrats are at fault for not challenging the president loudly enough need only take a look at how so many in the media cast Speaker Pelosi’s behavior last week as simply a partisan “war of words” between her and Trump, as we saw with both Raddatz and reporters at the New York Times. Democratic leaders need to continue to speak often and loudly about what is happening to our country under Trump’s presidency, but they will be preaching to the choir, while their concerns are cast as nothing more than partisan food fights to the rest of the country.

The eternal optimist in me desperately wants to find a way out of what is happening, but right now I don’t see it. Unless something drastic changes, the president and the attorney general are going to create a narrative about how the FBI engaged in treason that will be promoted by right wing-media and congressional Republicans. Rather than challenge that narrative, major media outlets will buy it hook, line, and sinker, just as they bought into the idea that Trump had been exonerated based on Barr’s four-page summary of the Mueller report. We’ll probably have show trials next spring with every attempt to implicate the 2020 Democratic frontrunner.

Anyone who thinks that all of that will either be halted by a responsible mainstream media or some new revelation about Donald Trump that snaps the whole edifice back into line just hasn’t been paying attention over the last three years.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.