Trump And The Trump (Formerly Republican) Party Continue To Attack Our Democracy
As Trump prepares to engage in the first battle of our looming constitutional crisis by refusing to be interviewed by Mueller while at the same time brandishing his authoritarian inclinations by labeling his opponents as treasonous for not clapping for him hard enough, it is easy to allow the more minor assaults on our democracy to become, as Masha Gessen feared, normalized. In addition, by focusing so much on Trump’s abuses, it is easy to overlook the same authoritarian impulses both within his administration and the Trump (formerly Republican) political party.
I have already written about the Trump (formerly Republican) Congressional party and leadership abetting the President’s obstruction of justice and refusal to defend the country against an attack by a foreign power. But there continue to be other, smaller skirmishes that often get overlooked or ignored because of the focus on the President.
Last Thursday, the Washington bureau chief from the publication Modern Healthcare was refused permission or the ability to participate in a press call with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). His phone was muted by the agency on the call and the agency later announced that he had been banned from the agency’s press events.
The issue that prompted the reporter’s ban was a story on the resignation of another official in the administration who oversaw Medicaid. According to the reporter’s story, sources had said that the resignation was related to a dispute the official had with the head of CMS, SeemaVerma. A CMS official then called the reporter and claimed that that the reports about the disagreement was false speculation and demanded that the offending statement be removed from the article. The reporter stood his ground, citing multiple sources, but updated his story to include a denial from the fired official.
That still did not satisfy the people at CMS who then contacted the reporter’s boss and demanded that “Short of fully correcting the piece we will not be able to include your outlet in further press calls with CMS”. Modern Healthcare did not retract their reporting and the reporter was subsequently banned. When the Association of Health Care Journalists rose to Modern Healthcare’s defense and asked for confirmation from CMS that the reporter had been banned, the agency replied, “No reporters have been banned by CMS”, an obvious and blatant lie.
Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, the Republican’s attempt to overturn or delay the State Supreme Court’s ruling that the legislature must redraw the state’s illegally gerrymandered legislative districts hit a road block when the US Supreme Court refused to hear their appeal. At present, Republican State Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati is technically in contempt of the state court for refusing to turn over documentation about the current legislative districts so that the court can redraw the districts in time for the 2018 primary and election season if the legislature does not do so.
Scarnati and GOP House Speaker Mike Turzai continued to defy the court, saying, “We still do not believe that there was a violation of the state Constitution, that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court can direct us to draw a new congressional map, or that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has the authority to draw a new Congressional District Map under the Pennsylvania Constitution or United States Constitution” and threatening further attempts to block the ruling in federal court, although it is hard to see how any federal court would take the case now that the Supreme Court has spoken. But there is probably some Federalist Society judge in northwest Texas who might be willing to go down this road, even knowing he will be overturned.
But, more disturbingly, there appears to be some sort of movement within a group of Republican legislators to try and impeach the State Supreme Court justices who made this ruling. One state representative is planning to introduce legislation to do exactly this, saying, “the five Justices who signed this order that blatantly and clearly contradicts the plain language of the Pennsylvania Constitution, engaged in misbehavior in office. Each is guilty of an impeachable offense warranting removal from office and disqualification to hold any office or trust or profit under this Commonwealth”.
It is unclear how far the Republicans would take this impeachment attempt and the House Majority leader said the issue had not yet been discussed. In normal times, this would just be another Trumpian (formerly Republican) crackpot and this idea would just die a quick and painless death. And that still may be the case. But these are not normal times and it is important to note that the top GOP leaders in the legislature are already in technical contempt of the Supreme Court, an unusual occurrence to say the least.
The path to authoritarianism lies in attacks on the democratic restraints of the press, the judiciary, the electoral process, and the legitimacy of the political opposition. In just the last five days, we have seen attacks on all four of these fronts – attempting to censor and ban the press, threatening to impeach the judges that rule against them, fighting to maintain electoral power through illegal districting, and calling Democrats treasonous – from Trump and the Trump (formerly Republican) party. This is not, and cannot allowed to be, normal.