Trump's attempt to delegitimize the federal judiciary is terrifying, says Dean Obeidallah
Trump seems intent on bypassing our system of checks and balances, he writes
Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show” and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him @deanofcomedy. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
On Saturday morning, President Donald Trump may have unleashed his most bone-chilling tweet – at least to those who believe the United States should not become a Trump-led dictatorship. And I don’t make that comment simply to be provocative or without giving it a great deal of thought. Our democracy is far more fragile than some might grasp and Trump is engaging in a concerted effort to undermine the workings of it.
Here is Trump’s truly jaw-dropping tweet from Saturday morning: “The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!”
Why is this so concerning? It’s OK to argue about whether the judge should or shouldn’t have issued this order. But Trump is apparently attempting to delegitimize our federal judiciary by calling Judge James Robart, a George W. Bush-appointed judge, a “so-called” judge while arguing that his decision is “ridiculous.”
Let’s be blunt, because the stakes demand it: An independent federal judiciary is our last, best hope at preventing Trump from violating the US Constitution and illegally grabbing power. And Trump has to understand that, hence his attempt to undermine it.
The President truly appears to be leading a master class in transforming the United States into a dictatorship. Trump – and it’s fair to assume it is by design – has sought to undermine anyone or anything that tries to counter him.
First, Trump has made the media – which is a watchdog of our presidents – a focus of his attacks, calling them “dishonest,” claiming they peddle “fake news” and even recently labeling them “the opposition party.” The practical result is that when the media calls out Trump’s lies and presents objective facts to counter him, his followers will likely dismiss the media reports and instead side with Trump.
Then Trump went after our intelligence agencies because he didn’t agree with their views on Russia’s involvement in our recent election. Trump lashed out, calling these agencies, charged with gathering information for our national security, “disgraceful” and accusing them of leaking information, comparing it to “something that Nazi Germany would have done.”
Trump has clearly begun the process of destroying their credibility so if they come forward in the future to oppose his views or offer facts to undermine his position, he will tell his followers they also aren’t to be believed.
And now Trump, who attacked a judge during his campaign, citing his Mexican heritage, has turned on our judiciary again. But this time it’s far more disturbing given Trump is not a candidate, but president of the United States. The rationale must be assumed to be the same, namely that Trump wants to delegitimize the judiciary so that court decisions Trump disagrees with will be viewed by his followers as at the least horribly partisan, or at worst invalid.
It’s frightening to think where this could lead. For example, when the United States Supreme Court ruled in the historic case of Brown v. Board of Education that racial segregation in our public schools was unconstitutional, it took then-President Dwight Eisenhower to implement that decision.
Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus had refused to follow the Court’s decision and instead surrounded an all-white high school in his state with National Guard troops to prevent its integration. Eisenhower responded by federalizing the Arkansas National Guard to enforce the Supreme Court’s seminal decision and allow black students to attend the school.
Would Trump do the same if he had passionately disagreed with the Court’s decision or would he simply ignore it while attacking the legitimacy of our judiciary, sparking a constitutional crisis? And would certain Trump-supporting federal agency heads, or even federal officers, refuse to follow court orders (or at least do it very slowly) because Trump has convinced them the federal judiciary’s decisions cannot be trusted?
There’s no doubt Trump supporters are very loyal to him personally. Keep in mind that Trump infamously bragged that he could even shoot a person on Fifth Avenue in New York and his supporters would still be on his side. And according to a CNN/ORC poll, while Trump has only a 44% approval rating overall, 90% of Republicans think he’s doing a good job.
The Founding Fathers enshrined a separation of powers in our Constitution so that there would be inherent checks and balances to avoid a situation where a president could become a king. After all, the Founders had just risked life and limb rebelling against the King of England.
Trump’s concerted attacks to delegitimize our media, our intelligence community and now our federal judiciary would have no doubt alarmed them. And it should be terrifying to every American who truly believes in our Constitution and in the promise of America.