The Last Bastions of Resistance to Donald Trump

By Robert Reich /


Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SA 2.0

With congressional
Republicans in the majority in Congress and unwilling to cross Donald Trump, the job of containing Trump’s
incipient tyranny falls to three groups: the nation’s judges, its independent press, and a few state governments.

Which is why Trump is
escalating attacks on all three.

The judiciary

After federal Judge James
Robart – an appointee of George W. Bush – stayed Trump’s travel ban last
Friday, Trump leveled a personal attack on the judge. “The opinion of this
so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country,
is ridiculous and will be overturned!” Trump tweeted Saturday morning.

This was followed by
another, late Sunday night: “Just cannot believe a judge would put our country
in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system.”

For a President to personally attack a federal judge who disagrees with him is a dangerous
overstepping of presidential power.

As Alexander Hamilton
famously wrote in the Federalist No. 78, the
judiciary is the “least dangerous” branch of government because it has “no
influence over either the sword or the purse.” It depends for its legitimacy on congress
and the president.  

Mike Pence tried to defend
Trump, saying “the president of the United States has every
right to criticize the other two branches of government. And we have a long
tradition of that in this country.”

Wrong. While other
presidents have publicly disagreed with court decisions, none before Trump has gone after
individual judges with personal invective. None has tried to intimidate individual judges. None has questioned the legitimacy of the courts.

The press

Speaking to the U.S.
Central Command on Monday, Trump veered off his prepared remarks to make a
remarkable claim: The media was intentionally covering up reports of terrorist

“You’ve seen what happened
in Paris, and Nice,” Trump told the assembled military officers. “It’s
gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported. And in many cases the
very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it. They have their reasons,
and you understand that.”

Trump thereby elevated his
advisor Kellyanne Conway’s “Bowling Green massacre” justification for his travel ban – a “massacre” she claimed the press had failed to cover, but which in fact never occurred
– to a higher and vaster level of conspiracy. 

What could be the press’s
reason for covering up terrorist attacks, in Trump’s mind? What is it that Trump assumed the
military officers “understood?”

The only possible
inference is Trump believes that the press – like Judge Robart – seeks to imperil our nation, because it doesn’t like Donald Trump. 

The states

State governments –
especially large ones headed by Democratic governors and legislators, such as
California – pose a third line of defense against Trump. So he’s directed his
ire against them as well.

In a televised interview
Sunday, Trump threatened to take federal dollars away from California. “We give
tremendous amounts of money to California … California in many ways is out
of control …. We may have to [defund California]. Certainly that would be a
weapon,” he told Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly,

What could Trump have been
talking about? The federal government doesn’t give tremendous amounts of money
to California, at least not net dollars. In fact, Californians send more tax
dollars to the federal government each year than the state gets back from the
federal government.

Fiscally, California isn’t
“out of control.” Since 2013, the state has operated with a budget surplus.
That’s more than can be said for the federal government. Or for Trump’s own
business, for that matter.

Trump’s real beef is
Californians voted against him in the 2016 election by 2 to 1, for a total of over
4 million votes. He can’t seem to get this out of his mind. 

Trump has repeatedly
suggested that millions of those votes were fraudulent. Last week, Trump spokesman Sean Spicer identified California as
one of the “bigger states” that merit a federal probe into election fraud,
adding, “That’s where I think we’re gonna look.”

But Trump has no evidence of
voter fraud in California, or any other state for that matter.

Evidence is irrelevant.
From Trump’s standpoint, California needs to be taught a lesson – just as do
Judge Robart and other members of the federal judiciary who disagree with him, just as
do journalists and media outlets that criticize him. And what is that lesson? That
they dare not cross Trump.

The judiciary, the press,
and the states are the last bastions of resistance to Trump. So he’s escalating his attacks on them. 

Trump doesn’t want any resistance. He wants total control. 

Robert Reich
Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as Secretary of Labor in the…
Robert Reich

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