If the polls are to be believed, Joe Biden has a significant lead in this year’s presidential election. I have no way of knowing if these polls are accurate, or even if they are, whether unforeseen events could occur that would upend these prognostications. It is probably fair to say, though, that politicians rely on them for campaign strategy. This might include which states to concentrate in, and what emphasis to place on various messages to appeal to voters.
In Donald Trump’s case, he has consistently downplayed the seriousness of the coronavirus (so as to prevent panic he said) and assured the American people that a vaccine would likely be ready by early November. Medical experts and the pharmaceutical companies doing their best to produce a vaccine have not concurred with Trump’s optimism.
Trump has also touted how the economy is bouncing back since the pandemic damaged it, how we can expect a V shaped recovery, and to expect record job numbers. For sure, the stock market is doing exceptionally well (for reasons not part of this discussion), but as economists will tell you, the stock market is not the economy.
Informed voters should be able to sort through a lot of this campaign rhetoric and figure out if there is much, if any substance to these statements. Joseph Biden has made statements, too, that can be considered “out there”, but he’s not president. In 2016, Trump promised that Mexico would pay for a 2,000 mile wall. He also promised that his first order of business would be to repeal and replace Obamacare. In fact, he could be on the cusp of repealing it if the Supreme Court rules in his favor after oral arguments are heard in November. Trump has promised for four years that he has a replacement plan that would retain the preexisting conditions requirement, yet he won’t reveal it. Millions could either lose their insurance or experience premium hikes that even middle class people would not be able to afford.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump gave the moniker “Crooked Hillary” to his opponent, and he often coupled it with the chant his followers loved, “Lock her up!” He pledged to prosecute Clinton, and during the second debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton, Trump said he would instruct his Attorney General to appoint a special prosecutor to look into all her lies and deceptions.
Within days after winning the election, when asked by reporters if he intended to fulfill his promise to prosecute Hillary, Trump said no.
Unlike totalitarian or authoritarian countries, or banana republics, our Attorney General and Department of Justice make prosecutorial decisions, not the president. The Attorney General acts independently of the president---or is at least supposed to---but times change even if part of our American exceptionalism includes our system of justice and the importance of due process, which is mentioned twice in our Constitution.
Last week Trump called out Attorney General William Barr for not having brought indictments against Obama, Clinton and Joe Biden. Trump is also fuming that U.S. Attorney John Durham, appointed by Barr eighteen months ago to look into criminal misconduct by top FBI officials in opening the Russia investigation, is not going to complete his investigation before the November election. In Trump’s view, Durham has had enough time to bring indictments, never mind that Trump is not privy to the grand jury findings and other evidence---or lack of evidence---that Durham has uncovered.
Recently, Trump once again expressed unhappiness with FBI Director Chris Wray and hinted he may fire him. In testimony before a House committee, Wray stated that racial extremists are a greater domestic terror threat than antifa, which he described as an ideology, not an organization. Congressman Doug Collins (R-GA), who is in a desperate and uber-nasty fight to win a senate seat, and one of Trump’s most outspoken sycophants, immediately followed by calling for Wray to resign---not because Collins proved Wray wrong, but because Wray provided his best information in a public hearing that disagreed with Trump’s message.
During Trump’s town hall meeting last week, he once again raised the issue of unsubstantiated theories of voter fraud. The moderator pointed out that Wray has said that there is no sign of widespread voter misconduct. Trump responded, “Then he’s not doing a very good job.”
Do we as Americans really want our appointed officials to run their agencies under threats of being fired or prosecuted because their findings and conclusions differ with the president? Aren’t these officials doing their jobs when they honestly report the best information they have, what they know to be true or not true? Wouldn’t it make sense for Trump to have a private meeting with his FBI director when they disagree to get the facts? Trump, having never served in the armed forces, didn’t learn a 101 principle of leadership: praise in public; reprimand in private.
We witnessed another of Trump’s interferences during the Russia investigation conducted by Robert Mueller. Trump lauded several of the witnesses and defendants who were considering whether to cooperate with prosecutors, even calling Paul Manaforte, later convicted, of being a stand-up guy. Trump also defended his former lawyer Michael Cohen as a victim of government misconduct, at least until Cohen began to cooperate with the government. Then there was Trump’s private meeting with former FBI Director James Comey in which Trump asked Comey if Comey could discontinue the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
The clearly unstated, but clearly implied message to the witnesses was that if they remained steadfast and loyal to Trump, Trump would take care of them through his constitutional power of clemency.
Trump has brought to new heights his personal attacks on judges. He refused to put his business interests into a blind trust when elected, and despite promises to the contrary in 2016, continues to withhold disclosing his tax returns, which might reveal conflicts of interest.
Our system of justice is a long way from perfect, but it has made very substantial progress over more than two-hundred years. Every American has the right to believe that they will be treated fairly by the system, that due process is a right, and that the heavy hand of a president, governor, or other official will not interfere with the process.
Our country can do better, has done better, and hopefully will never again experience another “caudillo” issuing proclamations from the White House balcony.