The story has come out in pieces over the last two days, but those pieces are slotting into place with sickening clarity: Last week, a member of the intelligence community testified before the House Intelligence Committee that Russia is interfering in the 2020 election to support Donald Trump. Republican representatives rushed to the White House in concern, not about the interference, but about the fact that Democrats knew about it. And Trump then responded by purging the intelligence community of anyone who was trying to combat the interference.
The result is that not only is Russia known to be interfering in support of Trump, but Republicans are openly acting to support that interference. And the intelligence community is being flipped from an instrument meant to protect the nation into one that exists entirely to support Trump.
Hundreds of times, maybe thousands, Republicans, and even some Democrats, have sounded the same refrain when Trump removed some adviser, ambassador, official, U. S. attorney, or general. “Donald Trump deserves someone he can trust as his ...“ … whatever. In fact, Donald Trump Jr. made exactly that statement about incoming director of national intelligence Richard Grenell on Wednesday evening, after Trump had exiled the current acting DNI, Joseph Maguire, for the crime of telling Congress what it is legally required to know.
That formula, the one that starts with “Trump deserves …,” is a recipe for disaster. And that disaster has already arrived.
Within weeks of occupying the White House, Trump put those people he “deserved” in charge of the EPA and the Interior Department, in charge of Energy and ICE. Trump got exactly what he needed to please the crowds at his rallies. The nation got national monuments destroyed, public lands given away, and environmental protections slashed. It also got parents being taken away in front of their kids, an ugly and useless wall being erected along the border, the destruction of the immigration policies that have defined America, and children in cages. That is what it means when Trump gets what he “deserves” and America doesn’t.
It took Trump longer to overcome the judiciary. From the moment he sat down in the Oval Office, the justice system has been a thorn in his side. Whether it was judges ruling against his travel ban, U.S. attorneys stubbornly continuing to investigate crimes committed by Trump’s company and friends, or even Trump loyalist Jeff Sessions stepping aside from the Russia investigation, the whole judiciary seemed to represent a limit on his authority. Then Trump got the attorney general he deserved. And the hundreds of new federal judges he deserved. And America got laws that protected Trump from charges, or investigation, or even mention in any criminal affair.
There should have been a roadblock at the legislature, but despite all the efforts made in the House, the narrow Republican majority in the Senate had already made it abundantly clear that it was the Senate he deserves. Trump got a big tax cut—not just for “billionaires” in the abstract, but a huge reward for himself of tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars. Trump got the judges he deserves, the Cabinet officers he deserves, the support for bombing and murder that he deserves, the voter suppression he deserves. And of course he got the impeachment trial strangled in its crib, just as he deserves.
Fresh off that endorsement of everything he deserves, Trump launched into full-on purge mode, clearing out the remaining members of every agency that thought they were there for something other than what Trump deserves. The State Department and the NSA, a second pass through the DOJ … giving Trump what he deserves.
Now he’s got what he deserves. He’s got an attorney general willing to set aside the law for Trump. He’s got a Republican Congress that is protecting him even if that means openly acting against the nation. He’s got an incoming DNI who knows nothing about intelligence … but knows that he is exactly what Trump deserves.
One more visit with Masha Gessen:
Rule #3: Institutions will not save you. It took Putin a year to take over the Russian media and four years to dismantle its electoral system; the judiciary collapsed unnoticed. The capture of institutions in Turkey has been carried out even faster, by a man once celebrated as the democrat to lead Turkey into the EU. Poland has in less than a year undone half of a quarter century’s accomplishments in building a constitutional democracy.
Of course, the United States has much stronger institutions than Germany did in the 1930s, or Russia does today. Both Clinton and Obama in their speeches stressed the importance and strength of these institutions. The problem, however, is that many of these institutions are enshrined in political culture rather than in law, and all of them—including the ones enshrined in law—depend on the good faith of all actors to fulfill their purpose and uphold the Constitution.
Elections are also an institution. Their free and fair execution is just as dependent on the “good faith of all actors,” and not on Donald Trump getting what he “deserves.”