By Robert A. Vella
Principled Americans are pushing back against Donald Trump‘s blatant moves towards dictatorship as alarms are sounding across the nation about the threat to democracy and the rule of law. When more than one thousand former Department of Justice officials call for the immediate resignation of Trump’s Attorney General henchman William Barr, a lot of people take notice including even a reluctant mainstream news media. Inside the DOJ, current officials are fearful of retribution for simply doing their jobs in an ethical and impartial manner because they are profoundly aware that such professionalism would anger the megalomaniacal Trump. Additionally, a growing cadre of legal experts and scholars are connecting what’s happening in the U.S. right now to historical examples of authoritarian takeovers such as those which befell Europe in the prelude to World War II. In those examples, the process was typically so incremental and prolonged that the citizenry didn’t recognize it until too late.
Meanwhile, federal prosecutors have been hard at work trying to address another growing threat to the nation. White supremacists, emboldened by President Trump, have been committing more acts of domestic terrorism and other violence since the pre-Civil Rights Jim Crow era.
These current crises are clearly analogous to America’s Antebellum period before the Civil War when pro-slavery forces in the South resorted to authoritarianism and militarism which very nearly destroyed the republic. There is, however, one crucial cultural difference. Protestant Christians, led by the Calvanist John Brown and others, took a prominent role in leading the opposition to slavery. Today, the vast majority of white Evangelical Christians are fanatically pro-Trump. Without their zealous support, Trump would be left powerless and exposed.
Pushback against Trump
More than 1,100 former Justice Department employees signed a public letter Sunday urging Attorney General William P. Barr to resign over his handling of the case of President Trump’s longtime friend Roger Stone — and exhorted current department employees to report any unethical conduct.
The letter is the latest sign of a crisis of confidence inside the department. Four prosecutors quit the Stone case last week after Barr and other Justice Department leaders pushed for a softer prison recommendation for Stone, who is due to be sentenced this week.
“Mr. Barr’s actions in doing the President’s personal bidding unfortunately speak louder than his words,” the Justice Department alumni wrote in the letter posted online. “Those actions, and the damage they have done to the Department of Justice’s reputation for integrity and the rule of law, require Mr. Barr to resign.”
The letter calls on every Justice Department employee to follow the “heroic” example of the four prosecutors who quit the Stone case “and be prepared to report future abuses to the Inspector General, the Office of Professional Responsibility, and Congress; to refuse to carry out directives that are inconsistent with their oaths of office; to withdraw from cases that involve such directives or other misconduct; and, if necessary, to resign and report publicly — in a manner consistent with professional ethics — to the American people the reasons for their resignation.”
The letter calls for similar vigilance in other government agencies, adding, “The rule of law and the survival of our Republic demand nothing less.”
In more than three dozen interviews in recent days, lawyers across the federal government’s legal establishment wondered aloud whether Mr. Trump was undermining the Justice Department’s treasured reputation for upholding the law without favor or political bias — and whether Attorney General William P. Barr was able or willing to protect it.
Mr. Barr then took to national television to complain that Mr. Trump’s angry tweets were undermining him and his department’s credibility — a sign to some current and former lawyers that the department’s freedom from political influence is in imminent danger. Their worries are compounded by the fact that people in Mr. Trump’s circle have been mired in so many criminal or ethical scandals that practically any legal action on those cases could be seen through a political lens.
As many of the department lawyers and some recently departed colleagues see it, Mr. Barr has devoted much of his authority and stature to bolster the president since he took office a year ago.
“As Bob Mueller said — and the entire intelligence community confirmed — Russia is still coming at us,” said Chuck Rosenberg, a former U.S. attorney and former counsel to Mueller at the FBI. “Not only is the president offering a false narrative to the American people about that threat, but there is no leadership from him on this incredibly important issue. We are still being attacked. It is as if the Russians invaded Alaska and the president either said they are not actually there or that they are there but it does not really matter because we have 49 other marvelous states.”
Frank Figliuzzi, a former senior FBI official who also worked for Mueller, said Trump’s efforts to spin a new history of the Russia investigation are cause for alarm.
“What Trump is doing is canceling what we all have proven, what the courts have proven, as in Roger Stone, as in Manafort, as in Flynn, in a form of jury nullification at a presidential level,” Figliuzzi said, referring to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
“The president is doing it on steroids because of the power of his office,” Figliuzzi said. “People have to see the danger in that.”
Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a history professor at New York University and a scholar of authoritarianism, said she sees darker motives in Trump’s actions.
“It’s all about manipulating information and recasting the narrative to be what you need it to be,” Ben-Ghiat said. “Even more than censoring, which is old-school, rulers like Trump — and Putin is the master at this — manipulate opinion by manipulating information.”
Crackdown on white supremacists
Sixty-four white supremacists have been sentenced to a combined total of 820 years’ imprisonment in what is believed to be the largest collective prosecution of white supremacists in the United States, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas.
On Thursday, Garry Cody Jones, 51, was sentenced to over 11 years in prison for his role in a drug dealing scheme, marking the 64th and final hearing in the second round of sentencing for a series of kidnapping and drug-related conspiracies involving hate groups.
Jones’ lawyer did not return a request for comment.
“Not only do white supremacist gangs endorse repugnant ideologies, they also facilitate a violent drug and gun trade, putting our citizens in grave danger,” U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox said in a press release. “We were alarmed – but not necessarily surprised – at the quantities of drugs and firearms recovered during this investigation. The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to dismantle these organizations, disrupt their criminal activities, and put their members behind bars.”
The United States has a problem: The share of American adults who work is low, compared to other developed nations. Economists say this holds the nation back — the economy and wages should grow faster when more people are working.
Experts have been trying to figure out why so many adults remain on the sidelines, especially in a good economy. According to the latest Labor Department data, about 83 percent of American adults in their prime worker years (ages 25-54) are participating in the labor force, meaning they have a job or are actively looking for one. That’s up from a few years ago, but still below the levels of the late 1990s, and way below the rates of Germany, Japan, Canada, France and the United Kingdom.
When Sen. John Neely Kennedy, a Republican from Louisiana, asked Powell if “the richness of our social programs” makes people less inclined to look for work because they can get a government check for not working, Powell dismissed that idea. The vast majority of economists agree with the Fed chair, a Republican who worked for President George H.W. Bush before embarking on a career in private equity and later at the central bank.
“It’s very hard to make that connection, and I’ll tell you why,” Powell told Kennedy. “If you look in real terms, adjusted for inflation, at the benefits that people get, they’ve actually declined, during this period of declining labor force participation.”
Here’s Powell’s explanation: “It’s a combination of things, no doubt. It is that educational attainment in the United States, which was once the highest, has really fallen relative to our peers. And particularly among lower- and middle-income people, the level of educational attainment has really plateaued. And that’s the key thing for keeping in the labor market these days.”
“I would say the opioid crisis isn’t helping,” he added.
Top economists in the Obama administration put out a big report focusing specifically on this issue in June 2016. They concluded that jobs for men without college degrees are declining and pay has also been falling, making work less attractive.