Firing Comey: Attack on US democracy
James Comey was unceremoniously fired on May 9 from his job as Director of the FBI. A lot of talk on cable TV and the Internet last night compared the Trump termination of Comey to Nixon's infamous Saturday Night Massacre, the night Nixon fired one person in the Justice Department after another until he could find someone who would dump Archibald Cox, the prosecutor who was relentlessly investigating the President himself.
The events of Tuesday night were far more dangerous than the Saturday Night Massacre. They were, in fact, the latest in an unprecedented attack by the Trump administration on democracy itself. They signal the beginning now of a full-fledged constitutional crisis.
The crisis is deep enough already that only the appointment of a special independent prosecutor to look into the misconduct of the Trump Administration will satisfy the need for justice and the demands of the people of the country.
In the words of Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the former chair and ranking member of the House Judiciary Sub-Committee on the Constitution, speaking on MSNBC last night, the Comey firing has the nation "careening towards a constitutional crisis. The Administration is systematically attacking all of the institutions that are meant to put a check on the power of the President." Nadler is correct.
The firing of Comey has to be seen as a significant step bringing us much closer to authoritarian rule: Among the first to come under attack from Trump, however, was the media – described by him as "the enemy" of the American people. During his campaign, Trump began an assault on the nation's courts, proclaiming that a judge with Mexican background was incapable of ruling on Trump's criminal rip-off of students at the so-called Trump University. As President, he stepped up the attack on the nation's courts when they blocked his attempt to tear up the U.S. Constitution with illegal executive orders banning Muslim immigrants.
He has nullified another long-time bulwark of democracy, the Justice Department. That department has frequently stopped undemocratic attacks on civil and voting rights. Trump put an end to that by putting Jeff Sessions, a long-time segregationist and one-time Ku Klux Klanner into the department's top position. Sessions supported the massive gerrymandering tricks that have given us congressional district lines that dilute the voting power of working people and minorities all across the country.
Trump appointed a Cabinet full of billionaire businessmen – the same businessmen who the Supreme Court, through its Citizens United decision, allowed the companies from whence his Cabinet members come to buy the congressional representatives and senators who are supposed to represent the people.
He very possibly colluded, both before and after his election, with billionaire oligarchs from and leaders of the government of Russia to not just influence the U.S. elections but to arrange self-enriching multi-national business deals. Many of those Russian oligarchs are themselves criminals who have no use for democracy. They enriched themselves by stealing publically-owned resources designed to serve the people in the former Soviet Union.
Trump struck down long-established ethics policies and procedures to set up the biggest and most lucrative pay for play operation the White House has ever seen.
To add insult to all his deadly assaults on democracy, he fired early on in his administration the acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, when she warned him about the extent to which his hand-picked National Security Adviser, General Flynn, had compromised himself and endangered the country in his dealings with the aforementioned oligarchs.
He seriously thwarted the ability of Congress to play its assigned constitutional role as a check on executive power when he meddled in the affairs of the House committee investigating his administration. It had the effect destroying the credibility of congressional investigations.
And of course, on May 9 he fired the man responsible for leading the investigation into his own (Trump's) misconduct, including his association with the oligarchs and foreign leaders who had tampered with U.S. democracy.
Unfortunately, there is another aspect to this that makes it far worse than the Saturday Night Massacre. There could not have been a Saturday Night Massacre had their not been public servants willing to stand up to Richard Nixon's lawlessness. Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor at the time, refused to lighten up on Nixon as Nixon had demanded, then Attorney General Elliot Richardson refused Nixon's order to fire Cox. Then-Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus refused to do it.
Tragically we have quite a different situation today, one that makes the Trump actions even more dangerous to democracy than those taken by Nixon. We have the current Attorney General fully supporting the President's attack on democracy. We have Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein writing a memo supporting the firing. We have Republican senators saying little or nothing about the situation or like Lindsay Graham of South Carolina actually supporting the President.
The latest attacks by Trump are also worse than the Nixon attacks because we now have a severely eroded democracy in which there is control of statehouses and Congress by a GOP that employed undemocratic tactics including voter suppression and gerrymandering to achieve that control. We have "Walmartisation" of the economy, programs of mass incarceration and right-to-work (for less) campaigns and laws not just across the South but increasingly in northern states too.
Democrats have expressed outrage over the Comey firing even though they recognise how badly his unjustified moves in 2016 hurt Hillary Clinton's campaign. Some have even called for the impeachment of the Attorney General.
The greatest credit so far goes to the American people, however. Starting only one day after the Trump inauguration millions have poured out into the streets to defend against the assaults on democracy whether those assaults were on the rights of women, on workers, on minorities, on immigrants, or even on the right to breathe clean air. Before our eyes, one of the greatest mass movements in American history has unfolded.
As for impeachment, Sessions, of course, should be impeached but it is time to add to the impeachment list the name of Donald Trump himself. He has repeatedly lied to the Congress and the American people. He has repeatedly tried to turn unconstitutional schemes into practice with his inhumane immigration policies and executive orders. He has endangered the security of the U.S. and threatened the peace of the world.
An impeachment campaign, along with a continued and stepped-up mass movement of the American people is critical. Then, turning part of that movement into a powerful machine that sweeps Republican representatives out of office in 2018 will go a long way to stopping the dangerous slide into authoritarian government and preserving our democracy.
(The writer is the Editor in Chiefof Peoplesworld.org. The views expressed are strictly personal.)