The stunning abnormality of Donald Trump's war on Justice (and justice)
Posted January 2, 2018 10:22 a.m. EST
(CNN) — Here is a tweet from the President of the United States Tuesday morning:
"Crooked Hillary Clinton's top aid, Huma Abedin, has been accused of disregarding basic security protocols. She put Classified Passwords into the hands of foreign agents. Remember sailors pictures on submarine? Jail! Deep State Justice Dept must finally act? Also on Comey & others."
Trump appears to be referring to this story in the conservative Daily Caller that alleges that because a) Abedin forwarded messages with important passwords to her Yahoo account and b) every Yahoo email account was hacked that a+ b = Abedin gave the Russians access to classified government systems.
Which, um, no. Both "A" and "B" above can be facts without making the conclusion of the Daily Caller accurate. Unless evidence emerges that Abedin's account was specifically looked into by the Russians, then we are simply left with two events that happened -- without much relation to one another.
This sort of tangential connection -- held together with gum, rubber bands and the undying belief in the evil of the Clintons and all they touch -- is nothing new for conservative media. From conspiracy theories about Vince Foster's death all the way through conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton's health during the 2016 campaign, these sorts of "reports" have been around for a long time.
What's changed is that we now have a president who not only traffics in this sort of stuff but uses it as his primary source of information. Trump has mainstreamed conspiracy theories that, in every past presidency, have only existed in the fever swamps of the right or left.
Consider what Trump is alleging about not just Abedin but the entire justice system in the tweet above.
"Deep State Justice Dept must finally act," Trump tweets, suggesting that Abedin belongs in jail and former FBI Director James Comey and "others" might too.
The idea of the "deep state" has long been central to the beliefs of people like Breitbart executive Steve Bannon and others in the conservative media. Its basic tenet is that there is a sort of extra-judicial government being run in the shadows of the public-facing government -- a so-called "deep state" that has as its prime objective to maintain the status quo. The "deep state" isn't really partisan, it's more an agreement by the establishment to keep its hold on power for as long as humanly possible.
Trump first embraced the so-called "deep state" in a tweet in late November 2017 after, apparently, watching a segment on Fox News. He tweeted:
"Charles McCullough, the respected fmr Intel Comm Inspector General, said public was misled on Crooked Hillary Emails. 'Emails endangered National Security.' Why aren't our deep State authorities looking at this? Rigged & corrupt?"
Consider what's being alleged here: That the Justice Department is refusing to prosecute criminals -- including the former director of the FBI! -- because the deep state is protecting those people.
That sounds a little off, right? Like, if your uncle spent 15 minutes at Christmas dinner bending your ear with that exact theory, you would ask your mom afterward: "What is the deal with Uncle Harold?"
Now, consider the source: This is the President of the United States we are talking about. The most powerful person in the country -- and maybe the world. The person who chose the man -- Jeff Sessions -- who runs the Justice Department.
Let's be clear about all of this: The President of the United States is saying that the former FBI director, who he fired and who could, as we speak, potentially be playing a central role in the special counsel investigation into Russia's attempted interference in the 2016 presidential election, is being protected by a secret quasi-government that really controls things.
This is far from the first time Trump has raised questions about the independence of the Justice Department via Twitter.
"Everybody is asking why the Justice Department (and FBI) isn't looking into all of the dishonesty going on with Crooked Hillary & the Dems," Trump tweeted on November 3, 2017. "Many people in our Country are asking what the 'Justice' Department is going to do about the fact that totally Crooked Hillary, AFTER receiving a subpoena from the United States Congress, deleted and "acid washed" 33,000 Emails? No justice!," he tweeted last month.
What's even more frightening than the assumptions made in those presidential tweets is that plenty of people are changing their views of the FBI due to Trump's assault on the bureau and its one-time head.
In 2014, Gallup polling showed that 62% of Republicans thought the FBI was doing an "excellent" or "good" job. In new Gallup polling, that number among Republicans has dipped to 49% -- even as Republicans' trust in other government agencies has soared since 2014.
It's almost impossible to accurately describe how abnormal this sort of behavior is from a president. In the past, presidents went out of their way to build up trust in the agencies and departments of the federal government, believing that strength in institutions -- particularly those tasked with law enforcement -- was critically important to a functioning and healthy democracy.
Trump is doing the opposite. He is taking conspiracy theories long relegated to the fringes of even conservative talk radio -- there's a group of people entrenched in the government working to undermine his efforts to empower the average person -- and putting them squarely at the center of our national conversation.
That's not even close to any sort of behavior we have seen from any past president. And we need to not grow habituated to it. Breaking norms of accepted behavior needs to be noted each time it happens. Otherwise, we have no norms. And that's a very dangerous thing.