On the power of POTUS
The United States has now endured just over a full month of President Donald Trump’s administration. These past few weeks have, once again, trudged on slowly despite the rapidity of action coming from the White House. Every day countless news stories emerge surrounding the actions of President Trump and his administration, so much so, that is becoming increasingly difficult to keep up with everything. That being said, there has been a common thread among many of the President’s most controversial opinions and actions: that is, President Trump’s efforts to consolidate as much power as possible.
In the past month, what can be perceived as Trump’s efforts to maximize his power have become evident in his dealings with the judiciary, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the mainstream media. Several attempts have been made, by the President and many members of his administration, to delegitimize these institutions in an effort to bolster his own power. In any case, whenever these institutions challenged his actions, the President retaliated with insults and attempts to question their authority.
On February 3rd, Judge James Robart’s ruling, to halt Trump’s immigration ban, in State of Washington versus Donald Trump et al. In his ruling, Judge James Robart conceded that “that we [the court] must intervene to fulfill the judiciary constitutional rule in our [America’s] tripartite government” and went forward by granting Washington’s motion to put a stay on the executive order nation-wide. The ruling was not well received by the President, who quickly took to Twitter to express his discontent with the judge’s decision. President Trump referred to Judge James Robart as a “so-called judge”, calling his legitimacy into question. Although, this is behaviour we have seen before from Donald Trump, this does not make it any less shocking. The President of the United States should not be working against the other factions of the American government; they should be working with them.
Soon after, President Trump made similar attempts to delegitimize the mass media and eventually the F.B.I. for refusing to support his efforts in doing so. Throughout his campaign, Donald Trump frequently made references to “fake news” and this theme has been resurrected as one of his administrations’ primary concerns. For example, on February 6th President Trump has accused the New York Times of “making up stories and sources”. Dozens of tweets accuse various news networks and newspapers of using illegally leaked information by intelligence agencies such as the F.B.I.
President Trump’s attempts to undermine the F.B.I. stem from his feud with the media. The New York Times published an article outlining that individuals in Trump’s campaign were in contact with Russian officials during the election cycle. According to the Trump Administration, these claims are false. The Trump administration then, tried to get the FBI to corroborate their claims that this story was fake news. When F.B.I. senior officials refused to do so, Trump and those in his inner circle lashed out: “The FBI is totally unable to stop the national security “leakers” that have permeated our government for a long time. They can’t even……, find the leakers within the FBI itself. Classified information is being given to media that could have a devastating effect on U.S. FIND NOW”
“Several attempts have been made, by the President and many members of his administration, to delegitimize these institutions in an effort to bolster his own power.”
President Trump has taken these claims a step further; calling such networks the “enemy of the American people” and doubling-down on this claim at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Political analyst, Carl Bernstein, likens this behaviour to Nixon and goes as far as describe Trump’s actions as authoritarian tendencies. However, the Trump Administration has taken their fight against the mass media even further. On February 24th, White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, held an untelevised press conference (gaggle), from which reporters from various news networks (Buzzfeed, CNN, Los Angeles Times, Politico, The New York Times) were denied entry. Although contentions between Presidents and the press have been historically common, such contentions have never escalated quite as far as to bar the press from hearings, conferences, or gaggles.
It’s hard to say what the President’s true motives are when it comes to his comments on the judiciary and the FBI. Clearly, the President does not enjoy being challenged and cannot help but retaliate. But the question of whether a deeper strategy or motive is guiding his actions still remains. Regardless of whether these statements are simply on-the-fly comments made to appeal to his base, convenient distractions, or are genuine attempts to undermine these institutions in pursuit of absolute power; the fact still remains that these are indeed steps toward authoritarian behaviour. Ultimately, an independent judiciary and a free press are integral to a functioning democracy. A president that challenges important institutions such as these, is one that threatens the survival of democracy in the United States. And what exactly is the United States without democracy?
By Stephanie Yaacoub
Please note that opinions expressed are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views and values of The Blank Page.