Autocratic leadership, i.e., authoritarian leadership, is characterized by individual control over all decisions with little input from group members. All Donald Trump knows how to do is be an autocrat. That’s how he ran his business. That’s how he is trying to run our democracy.
Thus, it was no surprise that he glommed onto Steve Bannon’s (remember him?) “deconstruct the administrative state” approach to government. It allowed him to appoint cabinet heads and EPA administrators not only openly hostile to the missions of their agencies but who agree[d] with his diminished view of the agencies. It should also not have been surprising that he made them “acting” cabinet members and agency heads. This way he has more control, and the Senate cannot, in public view, scrutinize their lack of capabilities through the confirmation process.
As troubling as this perversion of our agencies is, these attacks were just a beginning. Trump’s real agenda is deconstructing our democracy. In this regard, he’s attacked the CIA and the FBI, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller over his investigation and report. He’s disregarded the emoluments clause of the Constitution prohibiting him from profiting from his office. He has openly attacked both the 1st and 14th Amendments (fake news and birthright citizenship) and so much more. It’s not just that he’s ignorant about government and the Constitution, autocracy is antithetical to democracy.
Our system, the separation of powers among three equal branches of government, is set up to defend against this kind of assault: either or both the Congress and/or the courts has the power to stop it. Republican control of both the Senate and White House has neutralized the Congress. The courts, however, despite the Republicans stacking the judiciary, are holding the line against our autocratic president.
Federal judges have ruled against the Trump administration some 63 times over the past two years. This is an extraordinary record of defeat that has stopped a lot of his attacks on the environment and immigration. In doing this, the courts have pointed out that Trump officials failed to follow the rules of democratic governance, including providing facts and legitimate explanations for policy shifts.
Court victories have included: stopping him from diverting $2.5 billion from the Pentagon budget to build “the wall,” overruling his attempt to block anti-Trump Twitter users, allowing Democratic lawmakers to proceed with their lawsuit accusing the president of violating an anti-corruption provision of the Constitution with his private business dealings, blocking his Administration from ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), et al.
Donald Trump’s response to these rulings is to have a tantrum, labeling them: “a disgrace,” “not the law,” ” a joke.”
On the other hand, in the process of this judicial defense of our system, a unique champion for the independence of the judiciary has emerged — Chief Justice John Roberts.
In a very rare public statement, the Chief Justice said: the U.S. doesn’t have “Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges. What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges … The independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.” And, when our president tried to pervert the Census, by adding a citizenship question, the Chief Justice, writing for the majority, said the rationale the Trump administration gave for including the question (protection of the Voting Rights Act) was contrived: “a pretext, and that accepting it would require the court to have a naiveté from which ordinary citizens are free … . If judicial review is to be more than an empty ritual, it must demand something better than the explanation offered … for the action taken … in this case.”
The ultimate check on the president’s behavior is, of course, the “ballot box.” “We the people” in 2020 will have the power to remove this man from office thereby stopping his autocratic attack on our democracy.