Here Are 5 Ways President Trump Behaves Like the Corrupt Leader of a Banana Republic
Whenever John Dean, Jill Wine-Banks, Dan Rather or Carl Bernstein are asked to discuss President Donald Trump’s controversies on CNN or MSNBC, a word that inevitably comes up is “Watergate.” Wine-Banks was a Watergate prosecutor in the 1970s, while Rather and Bernstein reported on Watergate extensively as journalists—and Dean served as White House counsel under the Richard Nixon Administration. Dean and Bernstein appeared together on CNN on November 20, discussing the revelation that Trump urged the Department of Justice to pursue criminal charges against Democrat Hillary Clinton and former FBI Director James Comey.
Dean told CNN, “If I had to channel a little of Richard Nixon, I think he’d tell this President he’s going too far. This is the sort of stuff of a banana republic….This is a level Richard Nixon never went to, where you went after somebody’s personal well-being by a criminal prosecution.” And Dean didn’t get any argument from fellow Watergate-era veteran Bernstein, who denounced Trump’s actions as exemplary of his “abuse of presidential power” and his “embrace of authoritarianism.”
Certainly, “banana republic” are strong words, but in Trump’s case, they are appropriate. Here are five ways in which President Trump has conducted himself like the leader of a corrupt banana republic.
1. Relentless Demonizing of the Press
In a democratic republic, the press is meant to serve as an aggressive watchdog—and most U.S. presidents have understood that, even when they felt the press was being unfair. President Barack Obama was visibly annoyed at Fox News at times, but he respected their 1st Amendment rights and realized that he wasn’t exempt from the media’s scrutiny. Trump, however, has repeatedly denounced the press as the energy of the people—even when CNN reporters were receiving death threats, even after the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. CNN reporter Jim Acosta, whose White House press credentials were revoked after the midterms, never received death threats before Trump’s presidency—now, Acosta has noted, he receives them regularly.
2. Undermining a Federal Criminal Investigation
In democracies, even sitting presidents are not exempt from the rule of law—which is why President Richard Nixon probably would have been removed from office via the impeachment process had he not resigned on August 8, 1974 (Trump faced articles of impeachment in the House of Representatives, but he stepped down before a Senate trial could come about). Trump, however, views himself as exempt from the scrutiny of the U.S. Justice Department. Furious with Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia-related investigation, Trump fired him after the 2018 midterms and replaced him with loyalist Matt Whitaker—who just happens to be an outspoken opponent of the investigation. This is very much the type of corrupt behavior one would expect from the leader of a banana republic.
3. Interference with Election Results and Voting Rights
Trump not only promotes blatant voter suppression in predominantly non-white areas that are more favorable to Democrats than Republicans—he also favors voiding election results that he disagrees with. Requesting a recount is perfectly legitimate; in the 2018 Florida Senate race, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson wouldn’t concede to Gov. Rick Scott without a recount. But when the recount showed a narrow victory for Scott, Nelson conceded defeat. Trump, however, wanted to throw out the election results in the 2018 Arizona Senate race when Democrat Kyrsten Sinema narrowly pulled ahead of Republican Martha McSally.
On November 8, Trump tweeted, “Just out — in Arizona, SIGNATURES DON’T MATCH. Electoral corruption – Call for a new Election? We must protect our Democracy!” There was no evidence whatsoever that Sinema’s supporters had committed any type of voter fraud; regardless, Trump went way beyond asking for a recount—he wanted a “new election.” But McSally, to her credit, rejected Trump’s conspiracy theory nonsense and eventually conceded to Sinema.
4. Pardoning Cronies, However Egregious Their Actions
In Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio (an outspoken Trump supporter) conducted himself like a dictator or an authoritarian rather than a democratically elected law enforcement official. But the system of checks and balances worked when Arpaio lost a bid for reelection and faced misdemeanor contempt of court charges for refusing to comply with a judge’s orders to cease traffic stops that specifically targeted Latino drivers. Arpaio faced up to half a year in jail, but he was spared incarceration when Trump gave him a presidential pardon in 2017. Chiraag Bains, a senior fellow at Harvard Law School’s Criminal Justice Policy Program, asserted that Trump’s pardon of Arpaio was disturbing not only because it was an “endorsement of racism,” but also, because it “reflects Trump’s deep disdain for the judiciary and its role in our system of checks and balances.”
5. Shameless Monetization of the Presidency
When Trump was campaigning for president in 2016, he promised that there would be a strict separation of his business interests and his political activity. But not unlike a family dynasty in a banana republic—for example, the Somoza family in Nicaragua—the Trump family has monetized the White House. Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, were appointed as top White House aides. And in July 2017, Mother Jones noted that neither of them had fully divested from their real estate holdings. Not only has President Trump failed to “drain the swamp”—he has made it much more toxic.
Image: DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith
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Donald Trump Just Called for Another Coup and Hardly Anyone Even Noticed
Donald Trump, the one-term ex-president who is running for the Republican nomination for president once again, on Monday advocated for yet another coup against the United States.
Trump is currently under at least four criminal investigations: his unlawful retention and refusal to return classified and other White House documents; his alleged election fraud attempts in Georgia; his alleged hush money payment to two women and the campaign finance issues those raise; and his alleged attempted coup, sometimes referred to as an “autocoup, or “autogolpe” – a self-coup – and the actions he took surrounding the January 6 insurrection.
After Trump’s expected GOP challenger, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, was widely mocked two weeks ago for being unable to tell a reporter from a Murdoch outlet in the UK how he would handle the U.S. efforts to support Ukraine against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s illegal war, Fox’s Tucker Carlson submitted written questions to all current and potential GOP presidential candidates.
DeSantis, in that now-infamous interview, had responded to the Ukraine question by telling the reporter: “Perhaps you should cover some other ground?” and, “I think I’ve said enough.”
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On Monday, sharing with viewers DeSantis’ new, written response, Carlson declared the Ukraine issue is the most important question of our time: “Until tonight, no one could really say with precision where he stood on the war in Ukraine, which is arguably the most important topic in the world.”
DeSantis’ response made news largely because it is in direct opposition to current U.S. policy. The far-right Florida governor declared the war against Ukraine a mere “territorial dispute” and not in America’s “vital national interests,” as NBC News reported. (Experts disagree with DeSantis’ position, with some calling the war against Ukraine a genocide.)
Trump’s response, however, should have drawn as much attention.
Carlson, in the video below, very specifically says he submitted six questions about Ukraine to Trump, DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Kristi Noem, Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo, Greg Abbott, Tim Scott, Chris Christie, Chris Sununu, Asa Hutchinson, John Bolton and Vivek Ramaswamy. (Not all responded.)
According to the segment on his show Monday night, none of those questions included a question about “regime change” in Russia.
And yet Trump’s, DeSantis’ and Pence’s responses did, so it’s possible Carlson wasn’t being fully transparent, although why he didn’t mention he asked that question seems important. And to be clear, the Biden administration has made clear regime change in Russia is not the goal.
So, first, here’s DeSantis’ response that mentions “regime change”:
“A policy of ‘regime change’ in Russia (no doubt popular among the DC foreign policy interventionists) would greatly increase the stakes of the conflict, making the use of nuclear weapons more likely. Such a policy would neither stop the death and destruction of the war, nor produce a pro-American, Madisonian constitutionalist in the Kremlin. History indicates that Putin’s successor, in this hypothetical, would likely be even more ruthless. The costs to achieve such a dubious outcome could become astronomical.”
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And here’s Trump’s response that mentions “regime change”:
“Should the United States support regime change in Russia?”
“No. We should support regime change in the United States, that’s far more important. The Biden administration are the ones who got us into this mess,” Trump wrote, according to Carlson.
“Regime change,” as most know, is the removal of a current government, often by force, which could also be called a coup.
If you google the definition of “regime change,” you’ll find this: “the replacement of one administration or government by another, especially by means of military force.”
Certainly not at the ballot box.
Some might say, as they often do, “Well, maybe Donald Trump doesn’t know what the term really means.”
May 27, 2019: Asked about his military buildup in the Middle East and his pull-out of President Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, Trump told reporters, “We’re not looking for regime change. I want to make that clear.”
January 3, 2020: “President Donald Trump said Friday that America does not seek ‘regime change’ in Iran, less than a day after the U.S. launched an airstrike that killed the country’s top general, Qasem Soleimani.”
Donald Trump called for another coup Monday night.
Watch Carlson’s segment below or at this link.
We asked every potential 2024 GOP presidential candidate to answer six key questions on the war in Ukraine. As promised, their full responses are below. pic.twitter.com/tjcM4w54cR
— Tucker Carlson (@TuckerCarlson) March 14, 2023
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Sarah Huckabee Sanders Signs Law Gutting Child Labor Protections for Minors Under 16 Years Old
Arkansas Republican Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders has signed into law a bill further destabilizing minors in what was once called the “Land of Opportunity.” Her signature comes on the same day lawmakers sent to her desk a sprawling bill revamping Arkansas’ education system to allow wealthy families to remove funds from public elementary and secondary schools and put them into private tuition.
On Tuesday, Huckabee Sanders, barely months into her term, signed HB1410, the Youth Hiring Act, which guts child labor protections and removes what the new governor called “arbitrary” and “burdensome and obsolete” regulations that required the state to verify the age of anyone working who is under 16-years old.
Those regulations merely required “children under the age of 16 obtain an employment certificate, which is accessible to local school officials, before a company can hire them,” Quartz reports. “The change would end one of the only oversight mechanisms for child labor in the state.”
The new law “rolls back significant portions of the state’s child labor protections,” The Washington Post reports.
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Before Gov. Huckabee signed the bill into law, children under 16 were required “to verify their age and provide a description of the work schedule, as well as a parent or legal guardian’s consent, in the certificate,” according to Quartz.
While Republican governors and lawmakers across the country have taken up the mantle of “parents’ rights” as they support bans on books, sex education, and any discussion of LGBTQ people, Governor Huckabee has removed the right of parents to be informed of or consent to their young minor children getting a job.
Before Huckabee Sanders signed the Youth Hiring Act, state law prohibited “children under 16 from working more than eight hours a day, more than six days a week and more than 48 hours per week,” KNOE reported. “Opponents of House Bill 1410 have expressed concerns it will open the door to violations of these child labor requirements and put children at risk of human trafficking.”
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Quartz also reports that Governor Huckabee, who mentions her own three children in her official state biography, signed the law stripping rights from parents and children just weeks after the U.S. Dept. of Labor fined a slaughterhouse cleaning company $1.5 million for child labor violations, involving over 100 children. That fine includes $150,000 for two locations in Huckabee’s state of Arkansas.
This week Huckabee Sanders flooded her Twitter page with tweets praising her education legislation, including from former Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and other “school choice” activists who call taking public education funds and handing them to private and faith-based institutions education or school “choice.” She posted not one tweet mentioning her stripping parents’ rights and children’s protections from state law.
FBI Director Wray Promotes COVID ‘Lab Leak’ Theory on Fox News, Leading Some Republicans to Talk About ‘Bioweapons’
FBI Director Chris Wray promoted the “lab leak” theory of COVID-19’s origins in a Tuesday evening interview on the right-wing propaganda cable TV network Fox News. Wray’s poorly-worded and confusing remarks led some, including several GOP lawmakers, to wrongly propose he may have been suggesting COVID was a bioweapon from China. They also quickly made their way into a congressional hearing less than one hour later when far-right Republican Rep. Jim Banks, citing the FBI Director’s claim, asked if “there is a chance that the Wuhan lab was involved in bioweapons research?”
Director Wray, who was appointed by Donald Trump in 2017, told Fox News’ Bret Baier the “FBI has for quite some time now assessed that the origins of the pandemic are most likely a potential lab incident in Wuhan.”
His “lab leak” claim is not the consensus of the medical or scientific communities, nor the intelligence community, nor the federal government of the United States, nor the World Health Organization.
Committee Member @RepJimBanks: Is there a chance the Wuhan lab was involved in bio weapons research?
Matthew Pottinger: We know the Chinese military is involved in coronavirus research. pic.twitter.com/G2OoxZBiPV
— The Select Committee on the CCP (@committeeonccp) March 1, 2023
As NPR noted, “Wray’s remarks are the first in public by a senior law enforcement official following the Energy Department’s classified report, published by the Wall Street Journal on Sunday, saying the pandemic was likely caused by a lab leak in China. That assessment was reportedly ‘low confidence.'”
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In remarks that could further fray the already damaged relationship between Washington and Beijing, Director Wray tossed around the allegation that COVID is the result of “a potential leak from a Chinese government controlled lab that killed millions of Americans and that’s precisely what that capability was designed for.”
His remarks have been seen as confusing.
In context, here’s what Wray said (video is below): “The FBI has folks, agents, professionals, analysts, virologists, microbiologists, etc., who focus specifically on the dangers of biological threats which include things like novel viruses like COVID. And the concerns that in the wrong hands, some bad guys, a hostile nation state, a terrorist, a criminal, the threats that those those could pose. So here you’re talking about a potential leak from a Chinese government-controlled lab that killed millions of Americans and that’s precisely what that capability was designed for.”
(Wray is off on the U.S. death toll, which is estimated to be 1,145,661.)
There’s debate on what Wray meant when he said, “that’s precisely what that capability was designed for.” Some took that to mean China’s Wuhan lab was “designed for” making bioweapons, and some took that to mean the FBI’s “folks” have the capability to investigate those biological threats.
Crooked Media editor-in-chief Brian Beutler, responding to a Twitter user, said: “To state the obvious, this isn’t the most natural construction of the actual words Wray spoke. But if it’s what he *meant* he needs to correct his own error in a high profile setting, because as it stands he just told millions of Fox viewers COVID is probably a Chinese bioweapon.”
To state the obvious, this isn’t the most natural construction of the actual words Wray spoke. But if it’s what he *meant* he needs to correct his own error in a high profile setting, because as it stands he just told millions of Fox viewers COVID is probably a Chinese bioweapon. https://t.co/8jrA62pH6e
— Brian Beutler (@brianbeutler) March 1, 2023
Economist and frequent political commentator David Rothschild also pointed to Wray’s confusing remarks, tweeting, “Pretty sure Trump’s man (Wray) *meant* that figuring out how the virus started & spread is what FBI’s capabilities are designed for not that the Chinese intentionally created & leaked the virus to kill millions of Americans: Wray should clarify what he spewed on Republican TV.”
And indeed, it didn’t take long for another far-right Republican, U.S. Senator Josh Hawley, to make clear why what Wray said was dangerous and reckless: “Chris Wray made it sound like #Covid was part of a bioweapons program.”
Chris Wray made it sound like #Covid was part of a bioweapons program
— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) March 1, 2023
The Director also said, “our work related to this continues and there are not a whole lot of details I can share that aren’t classified. I will just make the observation that the Chinese government seems to me has been doing its best to try to thwart and obfuscate the work here, the work that we’re doing the work that our U.S. government and close foreign partners are doing, and that’s unfortunate for everybody.”
Chris Wray on Fox News: “The FBI has for quite some time now assessed that the origins of the pandemic are most likely a potential lab incident in Wuhan … [it] killed millions of Americans and that’s precisely what that capability was designed for.” pic.twitter.com/Z383qTg3DG
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 1, 2023
NPR, reporting on Wray’s remarks, noted that “the FBI’s assessment is far from universal. Four other U.S. intelligence agencies as well as the National Intelligence Council say, with low confidence, that COVID emerged through natural transmission.”
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“Eight U.S. government agencies are investigating the source of COVID-19, and they remain very divided on the issue. None of them is certain about the cause. Four lean toward natural causes. Two haven’t taken a position,” NPR’s report adds.. “Meanwhile, the evidence produced by the greater scientific community points overwhelmingly to a natural cause, via exposure to an infected animal.”
NBC News reporter Kevin Collier posted the Intelligence Community’s assessment, which was produced prior to Wray’s Tuesday night remarks. He notes the IC assessment “hid which agency thinks what,” and adds: “That the FBI decided to come forth like this, and doing so by heavily touting a major Wray interview on Fox News, is certainly a choice.”
After his interview the FBI posted a portion of his remarks to Twitter.
The previous public IC assessment hid which agency thinks what re: the lab leak vs natural origins. That the FBI decided to come forth like this, and doing so by heavily touting a major Wray interview on Fox News, is certainly a choice. https://t.co/wYaWCIaVOl pic.twitter.com/xvnAXo8vH5
— Kevin Collier (@kevincollier) March 1, 2023
Others were also quick to respond to Wray’s remarks.
“Wray now claiming lab leak of bioweapon designed to kill Americans,” tweeted the founder and publisher of Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall.
Nicholas Bauer, PhD, tweeted, “Biden should fire Wray. Not because of the underlying content – the FBI hasn’t changed its position – but poor judgment to get interviewed on Fox News and participate in this clearly choreographed media influence blitz.”
Journalist, author, and conspiracy theory expert Mike Rothschild slammed Director Wray: “‘Most likely a potential lab incident’ is pretty big hedge from Wray regarding the lab leak theory. Also, why is the FBI giving an opinion on something that seems like the CIA or CDC’s territory?”
“This is a meaningless statement that sounds designed to do nothing other than get airtime on Fox News,” Rothschild added. “How did they assess this? What is the evidence? What *exact* path did the ‘leak’ take?”
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