Leader of free world is threat to democracy, world

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s end-of-year interview with The New York Times at his Florida golf club has kicked off 2018 in a particularly disturbing way.

Beyond his repetitious insistence that there has been “no collusion” between his 2016 campaign and the Russians, it is his contention that he has the “absolute right to do what I want with the Justice Department” — which is investigating that potential collusion — that reflects a great danger for our democratic political process itself.

Trump added: “But for purposes of hopefully thinking I’m going to be treated fairly, I’ve stayed uninvolved with this particular matter.” It was a remark that seemed to hint that if his optimistic expectation was not realized, he might well intervene with his “absolute right” to intervene through his power over the nation’s chief law enforcement agency.

Trump insisted he wasn’t worried over what he called a “witch hunt.” “No, it doesn’t bother me because I hope that he’s (Mueller) going to be fair,” he said, “Everybody knows the answer already. There was no collusion. None whatsoever.”

Curiously, Trump kept returning to the decision of Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from any involvement in the Justice Department investigation. Sessions turned its supervision over to Assistant AG Rod Rosenstein on grounds he himself was a major figure in the Trump election campaign.

In what seemed an admirable ethical decision at the time deprived Sessions, and his sponsor Trump, of an easy and swift way to end or sidetrack the investigation that now imperils the president who appointed him.

Trump at first openly castigated Sessions for recusing himself and seemed on the verge of firing him as the head of the Justice Department, but then he relented.

In the Times interview, Trump told the reporter of Sessions’ decision: “I thought it was a terrible thing he did. I thought it was certainly unnecessary. … But I think it’s all worked out because there is absolutely no collusion, that’s been proven by every Democrat is saying it.”

The last contention, said falsely without an iota of proof, would seem to contradict a later statement about Democrats: “They made the Russian story up as a hoax, as a ruse, as an excuse for losing an election….”

Trump is a frightening example of presidential authoritarianism. He deals with the North Korean threat of nuclear war as if it were as schoolboy test of toughness, and as if a nuclear strike were a viable option in world that for more than half a century accepted the principle that a nuclear exchange is an unthinkable option in a rational social order.

The most stunning illustration of Trump’s authoritarian penchant, and his extremely careless and dangerous character, is his tweeted jibe aimed at North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un:

“Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”

Eliot Cohen, a George Bush arms control expert, responded: “Spoken like a petulant 10-year-old. … How responsible people around him, or supporting him, can dismiss this or laugh it off is beyond me.”

Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, said recently he believed the threat of nuclear war was an “increasing likelihood every day. I think we’re in a race really to be able to solve this problem.” To which Trump off-handedly observed: “I will only tell you we will take care of it” — hardly a reassuring comment.

This self-styled authoritarian president seems to forget or ignore that he has no constitutional power to start or declare war; only Congress can legally do so, though several presidents have launched wars essentially on their own with dubious legal formality.

The time has come when Congress and the American public must stop yielding to this irresponsible man and face the damage he is inflicting on American democracy and safety.

For more than half a century, our presidents have hewed to the notion that nuclear war was impossible to contemplate, after the horrors of the American destruction of two Japanese cities to end World War II. This country now needs to face that Trump may not be a passing fling but rather a grave threat to our country and to the world beyond.

Jules Witcover can be contacted at juleswitcover@comcast.net.