Everywhere you turn, it seems the 45th president of the United States is being disavowed, undermined, defied and delegitimized.
But don’t weep for President Trump. This is a classic case of chickens coming home to roost.
The refusal of (now former) Acting Attorney General Sally Yates to defend Trump’s immigration executive order is just the latest example of a collective refusal to buy into Trump’s rightfully won new authority.
As odious and inane as his refugee ban is, Trump was right to fire Yates. As Case Western Law School Professor Jonathan Adler writes in the Washington Post, she should have resigned, as Attorney General Eliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus did when they decided they could not fire President Richard Nixon’s special prosecutor at his request.
The incident follows countless other acts of mischief and mutiny since Trump was elected.
We’ve seen congressional boycotts of his inauguration; a rash of liberal fantasies over his inevitable impeachment; marches around the world where protesters and celebrities vowed to stand athwart his agenda, and an endless supply of Democratic lawmakers and operatives insisting Trump was illegitimately elected.
It also comes after the resignation (or purging) of the entire senior-level management team at the State Department.
Even former President Barack Obama has had a hard time letting go in the tumultuous era of Trump. At his final press conference before leaving office, he said, “I want to be quiet a little bit and not hear myself talk so darn much.”
But ignoring his own advice and the precedent set by his predecessor George W. Bush, he waited a mere 10 days to publicly condemn Trump, saying he was “heartened” by the protests against Trump’s refugee order.
Frankly, it’s no wonder Trump press secretary Sean Spicer complained about the seeming lack of faith in the new president’s authority.
“Over and over again,” he said, “there’s this constant attempt to undermine his credibility and the movement that he represents, and it’s frustrating for, not just him, but I think so many of us that are trying to work to get this message out.”
While it’s hard to argue Spicer’s point — Trump has been second-guessed from the get-go — the problem is, all the undermining and discounting of his presidency is entirely Trump’s own fault.
This kind of wholesale rejection and resistance is what happens when an authoritarian, fact-denying, conspiracy-pushing demagogue spends years sowing seeds of suspicion and doubt and is then rewarded with legitimate power.
For more than a year, Trump insisted that we couldn’t trust the legitimacy of some of our most revered and cherished institutions. Even more so than immigration or trade, it was his overarching campaign message.
Our democratic elections were rigged, he said, with no proof. The presidential election would be as well, unless he won, and then it would be fair. Except, he did win and the election still isn’t legitimate in his mind, but the result of millions of criminally conspiratorial acts of voter fraud.
Our intelligence community — composed of tens of thousands of highly skilled, underpaid and deeply committed public servants — could not be trusted, either. “Not so much from the people that have been doing it for our country,” he said last year, when asked if he had faith in the intelligence he’d be given as President.
He had more faith, he made repeatedly clear, in the assertions of WikiLeaks and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
And as we all know, he doesn’t trust the media. Stories that are unfavorable to him are deemed “fake” with little or no base in reality. The Trump administration feels so strongly that the media cannot be trusted that it is asking you to believe in the “alternative facts” that it provides instead.
Google “Trump doesn’t trust” and there’s a stunning abundance of things the president does not have faith in, from the polls to the Secret Service to the unemployment rate to vaccines to, yes, even computers.
Sowing distrust is a common tactic of dictators and cult leaders alike to consolidate power and control the channels of information. But America, thankfully, isn’t North Korea or Jonestown. In a free society like ours, distrust doesn’t beget order; it often begets more distrust.
Trump’s nonstop and corrosive undermining of American institutions has led directly to Americans’ undermining his own presidency.
It’s a very troubling and unhealthy relationship, for sure. When a president is legitimately elected, he should have the authority that comes with it. But the reason Trump doesn’t at the moment isn’t because the system is rigged. It’s because he insisted it was for so long.
Contact Cupp at thesecupp.com
This column first appeared in the New York Daily News.
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