Donald Trump and Bill Barr
Credit: The United States Department of Justice/Wikimedia Commons

Less than a week ago, the president launched an attack on social media for fact-checking one of his tweets. Trump claimed that it was a violation of free speech. Nothing captures the dangers we face from this presidency better than that reaction, followed days later by scenes like this one in Kansas City in which a protester was maced and arrested for saying things that offended police officers.

I’m sure Trump would laud those officers for “dominating” the scene.

The president may be backing off his threat to use the military against protesters, but we are traveling dangerously close to a complete unraveling of our democracy. Former intelligence officials are sounding the alarm.

The scenes have been disturbingly familiar to CIA analysts accustomed to monitoring scenes of societal unraveling abroad — the massing of protesters, the ensuing crackdowns and the awkwardly staged displays of strength by a leader determined to project authority.

In interviews and posts on social media in recent days, current and former U.S. intelligence officials have expressed dismay at the similarity between events at home and the signs of decline or democratic regression they were trained to detect in other nations.

“I’ve seen this kind of violence,” said Gail Helt, a former CIA analyst responsible for tracking developments in China and Southeast Asia. “This is what autocrats do. This is what happens in countries before a collapse. It really does unnerve me.”

The question becomes, who will stop Trump when/if he escalates his autocratic tendencies in the run-up to the election in November? Can the country afford to wait and let voters decide?

What we know is that the chief law enforcement officer in the country—Attorney General Bill Barr—will not only fail to take action, he has demonstrated that he is one of the president’s chief enablers. Congressional Republicans made it clear that they won’t hold Trump accountable when they refused to remove him from office or even call witnesses in his impeachment trial. Following Trump’s latest threats, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell proved that he will go to any lengths to protect the president when he blocked a resolution condemning Trump’s actions against peaceful protesters.

As we saw when Trump suggested that there were good people on both sides of the confrontation between neo-Nazis and protesters in Charlottesville, there is a chorus of conservatives who are speaking up. Former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen issued a dire warning.

I remain confident in the professionalism of our men and women in uniform. They will serve with skill and with compassion. They will obey lawful orders. But I am less confident in the soundness of the orders they will be given by this commander in chief, and I am not convinced that the conditions on our streets, as bad as they are, have risen to the level that justifies a heavy reliance on military troops. Certainly, we have not crossed the threshold that would make it appropriate to invoke the provisions of the Insurrection Act.

Furthermore, I am deeply worried that as they execute their orders, the members of our military will be co-opted for political purposes.

James Miller resigned from his position on the Defense Science Board as a result of Secretary Mark Esper’s complicity in the president’s stunt of “using tear gas and rubber bullets—not for the sake of safety, but to clear a path for a presidential photo op.”

On a more general level, even conservative George Will says that both Trump and his congressional enablers must be removed. Adding their voice to the Never Trumpers, members of the George W. Bush administration have formed a super PAC to defeat the president and elect Joe Biden. Those kinds of actions from conservatives would have been unthinkable prior to Trump’s presidency—which tells you something about the seriousness of our current situation.

The problem, however, is that none of these people actually have the power to stop Donald Trump and those who do have made it clear that they refuse to use it. As Jennifer Rubin points out, “it takes a village to raise a monster.” That is exactly what Trump’s enablers are doing. This whole fiasco of a presidency should have been over a long time ago because our founders gave us the tools to stop it. The fact that that hasn’t happened frightens me even more than what the president might do in the coming months.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.