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What's at stake in November? Democracy

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Friday, September 7, 2018

President Trump's incoherence grows to keep pace with his desperation. These days he makes less sense than ever — a sign that this malignant presidency has entered a new, more dangerous phase.

I can't be the only one who thinks he sounds less like an elected official than like the leader of some apocalyptic cult. Look at the way he rails against the news media at his revival-style campaign rallies. In Indiana last Thursday night, he seemed obsessed with news stories that had described empty seats and a subdued crowd at a West Virginia rally several days earlier. He claimed those reports were "fake news," although they were demonstrably true.

Trump also claimed that "when I start screaming 'fake news,' you see those red lights go off for a little while," referring to the television news cameras. The suggestion was that the news media do not want the public to know of his "fake news" attacks, which is insanely untrue — if anything, we give far too much coverage to that dangerous nonsense. And as all at the rally could see, the little red lights stayed on.

But while Trump's rant was divorced from reality, it was also coldly calculated. He has waged a relentless campaign to convince his staunch supporters to believe his words over the evidence of their own eyes and ears.

This is an astonishing thing to have to say about an American president, but Trump is taking a page from the playbook of totalitarian dictators: Believe only me. Reality is what I say it is. Anyone who claims otherwise is an Enemy of the People.

Is it working? For some Trump supporters, all too well. On Thursday, a California man was arrested on federal charges of making death threats against journalists at the Boston Globe, which had led some 200 newspapers in making a coordinated response to Trump's attacks against the media. The man, who said he planned to shoot Globe reporters "in the head," reportedly owned 20 guns. In one threatening call he denounced the newspaper's employees as an "enemy of the people."

But a Washington Post poll published Friday showed Trump's approval rating having fallen to 36 percent, with disapproval at 60 percent. More significantly, more than half of those polled — an incredible 53 percent — said they "strongly" disapproved of Trump's performance.

That number points to one reason why Trump is so frantic right now. Such intensity of feeling against him suggests there may indeed be a "blue wave" in the November election that gives Democrats control of the House and perhaps even threatens a few surprises in the Senate.

Trump has been able to get away with the political equivalent of murder largely because the Republican-led Congress protects him, refusing to do its constitutional duty. It won't call him on his many lies; it won't investigate his financial conflicts of interest; it won't hold his Cabinet members accountable; and with the exception thus far of the Senate Intelligence Committee, it won't even seriously investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election.

House committees led by Democrats would do all of these things and more. The most immediate threat to Trump from the election is not impeachment, though we may eventually reach that point. Rather, it is the prospect of genuine oversight and serious investigation. Scrutiny is Trump's kryptonite.

The other thing Trump fears, of course, is the Robert Mueller investigation writ large. The probe by the special counsel has now metastasized to involve the Southern District of New York, the New York state attorney general and the Manhattan district attorney. Trump's campaign chairman was convicted on eight felony counts, and his former attorney pleaded guilty to eight felonies — on the same day. Trump's longtime accountant and a tabloid publisher who kept Trump's secrets locked in a safe are talking to prosecutors under grants of immunity.

Nothing in Trump's history suggests he is going to sit back and let this process unfold — and perhaps destroy him. Everyone should assume this will get ugly.

Trump desperately wants an attorney general who will shut Mueller down. The incumbent, Jeff Sessions, cannot do so because he is recused from the matter. Republican senators who once warned Trump not to dare fire Sessions now seem resigned to the fact that Trump will do just that.

It makes sense for Trump to make his move after the election. If Republicans still control Congress, he'll get away with it. If Democrats take charge, he won't. If anyone asks you what's at stake in November, tell them democracy and justice.

Eugene Robinson is a columnist and an associate editor of The Washington Post who won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2009.

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Humans of Greenville

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Local photographer Joe Pellegrino explores Greenville to create a photographic census of its people.

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