Trump Attacks Constitutional Freedoms as He Ratchets Up Authoritarian Corruption

(Sipa USA via AP Images)

I’m no fan of John Brennan—or of James Comey, for that matter. But President Donald J. Trump’s revocation of the former’s security clearance, and threat of the same for the latter, should be a matter of grave concern to even those who despise former CIA Director Brennan for his involvement in the “extraordinary rendition” program of the Bush administration, and his approval of so-called “enhanced interrogation” techniques on prisoners suspected of ties to terrorism.

That’s because it wasn’t for those reasons, of course, that Trump revoked Brennan’s clearance; if anything, Trump would likely say Brennan’s brand of torture wasn’t “tough” enough. No, the reason Trump gave to The Wall Street Journal for his action against Brennan was this: the investigation of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election on Trump’s behalf. As CNN tells it, “Brennan, who served under President Barack Obama, was one of the intelligence chiefs who signed off on the intelligence community's January 2017 assessment that Russia interfered with the intent to help Trump and to hurt Hillary Clinton.”

Just like that time he told NBC’s Lester Holt that he fired then-FBI Director Comey for the same reason. (And, by the way, Trump can’t revoke Comey’s clearance now; that happened when Comey was fired.)

So Brennan has essentially being defrocked for having done his job regarding a threat to the U.S. republic by a foreign power. Unless, that is, you believe the statement signed by Trump that was read to the press corps by White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who said the reason for the take-back was that Brennan “has recently leveraged his status ... to make a series of unfounded and outrageous allegations, wild outbursts on the internet and on television, about this administration."

Whether Brennan’s credentials were being revoked by the president because of Brennan’s conclusion regarding Russia and the election, or because Brennan has been saying unflattering things about the president, it’s a petty response by a vain and venal leader. In many ways, however, the reason laid out in the statement read by Sanders is the more worrying, because it gets at the matter of free speech. Brennan wasn’t giving away state secrets, unless you consider the fact of the president’s treasonous behavior a situation held tightly under wraps. I mean, everybody who watched his Helsinki press conference with Vladimir Putin, president of Russia, saw the near-treason with their own eyes, heard it with their own ears. There, Trump dismissed the findings of career U.S. government employees, sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States, and accepted Putin at his word when he claimed Russia had no such involvement in U.S. politics.

Speech is under attack in America, in ways we haven’t seen in a long time—or maybe ever. The groundwork is being laid for the chilling and purging of the press, which Trump has repeatedly referred to as “the enemy of the people.” On Thursday, hundreds of newspapers, led by The Boston Globe, ran editorials decrying the president’s attacks on news media, only to be met by predictable derision by the nearly illiterate Trump, who tweeted: “The Boston Globe, which was sold to the the Failing New York Times for 1.3 BILLION DOLLARS (plus 800 million dollars in losses & investment), or 2.1 BILLION DOLLARS, was then sold by the Times for 1 DOLLAR. Now the Globe is in COLLUSION with other papers on free press. PROVE IT!”

The best part? The lie that the Times sold the Globe for a dollar. Try $70 million. A big loss, for sure, but really a dollar x 70 million dollars.

In his next expectoration, the president tweeted that the papers involved were all “FAKE NEWS,” adding, without irony, “HONESTY WINS!”

Just last weekend, on August 12 in Washington, D.C., authorities decided that the only way to protect the free-speech rights of a couple of dozen white supremacists and neo-Nazis who convened for a rally across the street from the White House was to deny media access to them—even granting the haters their own, police-protected private rail car on a Metro train from which media were barred. Metro, the Washington, D.C.-area’s public rail system, is paid for by the people who live here. And it all happened as former government officials are threatened with repercussions for speaking against the president, White House staff are made to sign non-disclosure agreements that reportedly bar them, in perpetuity, from saying mean things about anyone named Trump, and specific media companies and reporters are accused of being purveyors of fake news.

Pointedly, in his statement about the first anniversary of the white supremacist melee in Charlottesville, Virginia, where one person was killed by a white nationalist, and dozens injured, the president simply condemned “racism of all kinds,” with nary a word of condemnation of the violent white identitarians.

Why, you may ask, does the president so wish to discredit the media? For the same reason he wishes to discredit Brennan. To obscure the story of what’s really going on in his administration—how they’re looting the public commons, all with the help of a hostile foreign power. And by courting some of the most hateful elements of American society. 

Meanwhile, as the Omarosa-Trump reality show reboot flooded cable-news TV screens and the president’s latest outrage—the Brennan booting—focused the attention of more serious news organs, the administration was hard at work, rolling back fair-housing regulations, unleashing predatory lenders on veterans, ending student loan relief for people who were defrauded by private colleges, and refusing to say how many migrant children it still had in custody who had been separated from their parents at the border.

Oh, and the military gave an estimate for the big parade Trump wants to have in November for no reason other than his authoritarian vanity: $92 million.

The Constitution is in trouble. But its destruction has become quite a show.

Update: After this article published, President Trump announced, via Twitter, that the parade would be delayed for a year, and blamed the high cost of the estimate on the government of the District of Columbia, even though the costs were largely military in nature. The district government is headed by Mayor Muriel Bowser, an African American woman.

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