Thursday, May 18, 2017

Deputy Attorney General Appoints Special Counsel To Lead Investigation

The Constitution grants great power and authority to the president.  It also established a system of checks and balances to contain that power within a system of law.  The election of Donald Trump has tested that system of checks and balances.  The weakest link in the system is Congress.  Members of Congress belong to political parties.  That puts them in a bind.  They are often torn between party loyalty, their own self interest, and the national interest.  The appointment of a Special Counsel has provided us with a valuable lesson about the wisdom of our founders.

The press plays a valuable, and essential role, in our system.  The president did what he could to muffle the press.  No president is fond of the press, especially when it is critical of the president and his policies.  Donald Trump went to the extreme by attempting to delegitimize media sources that he could not silence.  He told his followers that institutions like the Washington Post and the NY Times provide "fake news".  His strategy did not work.  They provided valuable information to the public despite Trump's efforts to silence them.  We would not have learned about many of Trump's falsehoods, or his interference into an investigation, that he calls a hoax, without the protections provided to the media by the Bill of Rights.  That protection does not exist in many nations.

The judicial system provides another limit to abuses by authoritarian presidents.  Trump has been critical of the judicial system, but he has not been able to keep it from doing its job.  The Deputy Attorney General appointed the Special Counsel instead of the Attorney General appointed by Trump.  The Attorney General was forced to recuse himself from the Russian investigation because his failure to disclose contacts with the Russian Ambassador made him a potential target of the investigation.  Trump was furious when his appointed Attorney General recused himself but the law required him to do so.  The Special Counsel can conduct his investigation wherever it takes him.  The president cannot interfere with his investigation.

Our founders understood many of the problems in any electoral system.  The rules can be altered by corrupt legislatures but the weakest link is in the system itself.  It is easily turned into a popularity contest that is supported by expensive marketing campaigns.  We elected a demagouge to the presidency for two reasons:  Our economic system has not functioned well for many Americans.  Neither political party offered them a way out of their problems.  Trump made promises to them that they believed. He also demonized his opponent and attacked many of the enemies of his base.  That is standard procedure by demagogues.  His opponent in the election also had flaws that forced many voters to choose the lesser of two evils.  Many of her flaws were the result of relentless attacks on her performance as our Secretary of State.  Republican investigations into her performance failed to show that she was responsible for a failure to protect the US embassy in Benghazi from a terrorist attack.  However, they discovered that she had used a private email server during their investigation.  They turned that into an effective weapon during the election cycle.

We will have to see how the investigation into Trump's potential obstruction of justice turns out.  The same is true of the Russian investigation.  No matter how it turns out, the system of checks and balances is working but we need to look at ways to improve the electoral system.  A system that put a totally unqualified demagogue in the White House is an obvious failure.


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