My intention to complete the directory what I consider to be the primary seven big lies of the resistance today was unexpectedly bolstered by yet another intellectually indefensible screed by Steven Levitsky and , the two authority-abusing political scientists who wrote the equally indefensible “Why Democracies Die.” This one is a New York Times op-ed titled “Why Republicans Play Dirty (They fear that if they stick to the rules, they will lose everything. Their behavior is a threat to democratic stability.)”
Even though the latest from these twp partisans posing as objective scholars focuses on the GOP rather than the President, the dishonest strategy is the same. The exact conduct being engaged in by the “resistance” and the Democrats is projected on their adversaries, accompanied by the false claim that they are endangering American democracy. In truth, the calculated efforts to de-legitimatize the President, his election, and the Supreme Court by “the resistance”(and in this group we must include unethical academics like Levitsky and
And, of course, the New York Times gives the two a platform for their distortions. Of course.
Here’s the opening argument of Levitsky and this morning:
“The party’s abandonment of fair play was showcased spectacularly in 2016, when the United States Senate refused to allow President Barack Obama to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February…. While technically constitutional, the act — in effect, stealing a court seat — hadn’t been tried since the 19th century. It would be bad enough on its own, but the Merrick Garland affair is part of a broader pattern.Constitutional hardball has accelerated under the Trump administration. President Trump’s declaration of a “national emergency” to divert public money toward a border wall — openly flouting Congress, which voted against building a wall — is a clear example. And the Supreme Court’s conservative majority, manufactured by an earlier act of hardball, may uphold the constitutionality of the president’s autocratic behavior.Constitutional hardball can damage and even destroy a democracy. Democratic institutions function only when power is exercised with restraint.”
The only way this argument could be made without giggling is if the advocates deliberately ignore the other side of the aisle—in other words, lie. Yes, the burying of Merrick Garland’s nomination by the GOP Senate majority, was indeed “playing dirty,” but no more so than the rejection of Robert Bork’s nomination for the Court by a Democratic Senate majority, permanently shattering the tradition of Senate confirmation of any SCOTUS pick who was qualified for the job. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was the one who took the “nuclear option,” of eliminating the filibuster for judicial nominations—that was “playing dirty” by Levitsky and ‘s definition.
So was the unprecedented use use of the arcane device of “reconciliation” by Reid to sneak Obamacare through Congress without reconsideration by the House after the Senate majority had shifted. So was Reid’s outright lie that Mitt Romeny hadn’t paid any taxes for years (“He lost, didn’t he?” was Reid’s smirking justification later) So was Barack Obama’s attempt to use an executive order to block federal prosecution of immigration violations; so was Obama’s attempt to intimidate conservative Supreme Court Justices into upholding the Affordable Care Act; so was the use of the IRS to hamstring Tea Party groups during the 2012 Presidential campaign; so was the orchestrated public disinformation regarding what really happened in Benghazi. There are many, many more examples, topped by the three year efforts by Democrats to manufacture a justification to impeach Donald Trump, turning on its head the institutional tradition of having clear evidence of “high crimes and misdemeanors” first, followed by fact-finding and bi-partisan assessment of the responsible response.
This is not an “everybody does it” justification of “Constitutional hardball,” but rather a demonstration that the argument that Trump and the Republicans alone are uniquely “breaching norms” in dangerous ways depite the fact—and it is a fact— the Democrats have done so and are doing so now as flagrantly or worse is a lie, a cynical lie (designed in part to hide from the public what Democrats have been doing to undermine democracy for three years) and a Big Lie worthy of the Goebbels playbook
As for the Big Lie’s application to Donald Trump, Big Lie #6, the ridiculous claim, plausible only to Trump-Hating partisans and the historically ignorant, that the this President is behaving autocratically and “abnormally” by defying the “norms” defined by his predecessors, I already debunked this thoroughly in 2018 when Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt came out with their book. The version ahead is slightly edited and enhanced.
The authors of the book, Professors Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, were the most credentialed of the “resistance” attack dogs sicced on Donald Trump to carry a core message of the movement: unlike any other President, this one was willing to discard tradition, established practice, and “democratic norms.” The New York Times wrote about it; so did the Atlantic and others. The theme began emerging when the President fired James Comey. Yes, yes, the critics said, a President can fire an FBI chief, but Presidents don’t because of the importance of keeping law enforcement apolitical. Well OK, Bill Clinton fired one, but that was special. All right all right, every President from about 1945 to 1972 SHOULD have fired J. Edgar Hoover since he abused his power outrageously–that’s five Presidents—but Trump doing it proves he’s a dangerous authoritarian.
This deliberately misleading talking point comes from the quieter Siamese Twin of Fake News, Fake History. Every President defies previous norms, or makes up new ones, and the stronger the Presidents involved are, the more norms they shatter. This doesn’t automatically threaten democracy, as the “resistance” and the news media, adopting the boot-strapping argument of “Why Democracies Die” claim. What threatens democracy is efforts to de-legitimize presidential power as an alternative to winning elections.
Andrew Jackson threatened to lead an army into a state and hang a Senator, John C. Calhoun. No President had ever done THAT before. He openly defied the Supreme Court. He set out to kill a powerful government institution, the Bank of the United States, and did. This is only a sample of Jackson’s norm-denying conduct, but he was a transformational President, and he didn’t leave the democracy in tatters.
John Tyler defied the consensus regarding what the Constitution meant about Presidential succession when a President died. Everyone told him that as Vice President, he was just a place-holder until a special election could be held. Tyler said, in essence, “I’m President now, so bite me. The next election will be in four years.” That’s how we ended up with the smoothest succession system in the world. James K. Polk expanded the U.S. territory by starting a war. Abe Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus and locked up a newspaper editor for publishing critical editorials during the Civil War. Andrew Johnson openly defied a law passed by Congress as unconstitutional. Grover Cleveland talked a private citizen into floating a loan to keep the U.S. from bankruptcy; he also hid a serious operation—he had part of his upper jaw removed—from the public. Teddy Roosevelt invited a black man, Booker T. Washington, to the White House. TR traveled outside the United States; he shattered previous norms of Presidential dignity and decorum. He remade the office in his own image, and to fit his unique personality.
Much of the caterwauling about Trump’s “authoritarian” defiance of norms is fed by his idiotic tweeting and use of the social media platform to attack individuals and the news media. There are no “norms” regarding social media. Other Presidents didn’t use Twitter this way because, of course, there was no Twitter. I made a list of the past Presidents who would have eagerly resorted to Twitter to fight the press and critics, or reach the public directly. A conservative list would be John Adams, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, A. Johnson, Teddy, Wilson, Coolidge (a limit in characters wouldn’t bother Cal at all), FDR, Truman, LBJ, Nixon, Regan and maybe Clinton.
Meanwhile, Woodrow Wilson shattered a norm when he addressed Congress directly with his State of the Union message rather than just submitting it in writing. Franklin Delano Roosevelt paid no attention to “norms.” He defied the two-term tradition. He defied the norm of not locking up American citizens because of their heritage, one of the most disturbing abuses of Presidential power in our history. He defied the norm of not trying to change the size of the Supreme Court. He defied the rather crucial norm of not secretly plotting behind Congress’s back to send aid to combatants in a foreign war in violation of a law passed by Congress. He defied a norm by dictating who would be his Vice President. One of his Vice Presidents, President Truman, then defied a norm by personally attacking a newspaper columnist. Jack Kennedy ignored a norm by appointing his own brother as Attorney General, and also broke one of decorum, allowing citizens to see him, indeed touch him, while he was in a bathing suit. LBJ showed his abdominal scar to the world. Both Nixon and Clinton, trying to stave off impeachment, broke with multiple norms in their claims of executive privilege. Gerald Ford became the first President to pardon a predecessor. Jimmy Carter, in my personal least favorite norm defiance, met with ordinary citizens on TV and asked them how they would run the country. ( Carter violated a crucial Presidential norm by being a weenie.)
Believe me, this is just a tiny sampling; I could go on and on. The point is that Presidents break norms, and norms are made to be broken…unless they are broken by President Donald J. Trump. Then doing what all strong leaders do is proof of dangerous authoritarian motives that threaten democracy.
I’m ready to combine the seven Big Lie posts into a single directory that I’ll file in the resources section. I like having seven: the Seven Deadly Sins, Seven Wonders of the world, The Seven Voyages of Sinbad. Is there a Big Lie I’ve left out? Let me know.