Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

'The judiciary, the press, and California are major centers of resistance to Trump, because they are independent of him,' writes Reich. 'So he’s escalating his attacks on them.' (Photo: Lorie Shaull/flickr/cc)

Trump’s War on the Courts, the Press, and the States

Robert Reich

 by RobertReich.org

With congressional Republicans in the majority in Congress and unwilling to cross Donald Trump, the job of containing Trump’s incipient tyranny falls to three centers of independent power: the nation’s courts, its press, and a few state governments.

Which is why Trump is escalating attacks on all three.

The judiciary

After federal Judge James Robart – an appointee of George W. Bush – stayed Trump’s travel ban last Friday, Trump leveled a personal attack on the judge. “The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!” Trump tweeted Saturday morning.

This was followed by another, late Sunday night: “Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system.”

For a President to personally attack a federal judge who disagrees with him is a dangerous overstepping of presidential power.

As Alexander Hamilton famously wrote in the Federalist No. 78, the judiciary is the “least dangerous” branch of government because it has “no influence over either the sword or the purse.” It depends for its power and legitimacy on congress and the president.  

Mike Pence tried to defend Trump, saying “the president of the United States has every right to criticize the other two branches of government. And we have a long tradition of that in this country.”

Wrong. While other presidents have publicly disagreed with court decisions, none before Trump has gone after individual judges with personal invective. None has tried to intimidate individual judges. None has questioned the legitimacy of the courts.

Trump is on the warpath against Robart because he defied Trump. 

The press

Speaking to the U.S. Central Command on Monday, Trump veered off his prepared remarks to make a remarkable claim: The media was intentionally covering up reports of terrorist attacks.

“You’ve seen what happened in Paris, and Nice,” Trump told the assembled military officers. “It’s gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported. And in many cases the very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it. They have their reasons, and you understand that.”

Trump thereby elevated his advisor Kellyanne Conway’s “Bowling Green massacre” justification for his travel ban – a massacre that she claimed the press had failed to cover, but which in fact never occurred – to a higher and vaster level of conspiracy. 

What could be the press’s reason for covering up terrorist attacks, in Trump’s mind? What is it that Trump assumed the military officers “understood?”

The only possible inference is Trump believes that the press – like Judge Robart – seeks to imperil our nation, because it doesn’t cow tow to Donald Trump. 

The states

State governments pose a third line of defense against Trump. Several state attorneys general have taken Trump’s travel ban to court, and one particularly large Democratic state – California – has defied him on immigration and the environment. So Trump is directed his ire against these states as well.

In a televised interview Sunday, Trump threatened to take federal dollars away from California. “We give tremendous amounts of money to California … California in many ways is out of control …. We may have to [defund California]. Certainly that would be a weapon,” he told Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly,

A weapon for what? What could Trump have been talking about? The federal government doesn’t give tremendous amounts of money to California, at least not net dollars. In fact, Californians send more tax dollars to the federal government each year than the state gets back from the federal government.

Fiscally, California isn’t “out of control.” Since 2013, the state has operated with a budget surplus. That’s more than can be said for the federal government. Or for Trump’s own business, for that matter.

Trump’s real beef is California is independent of him. It has defied Trump with its high environmental standards and “sanctuary” cities. Even worse, from his standpoint, its citizens voted against him in the 2016 election by 2 to 1, for a total of over 4 million votes. He can’t seem to get this out of his mind. 

Trump has repeatedly suggested that millions of those votes were fraudulent. Last week, Trump spokesman Sean Spicer identified California as one of the “bigger states” that merit a federal probe into election fraud, adding, “That’s where I think we’re gonna look.”

But Trump has no evidence of voter fraud in California, or any other state for that matter.

For Trump, evidence is irrelevant. California needs to be taught a lesson – just as do Judge Robart and other members of the federal judiciary who defy him, just as do journalists and media outlets that criticize him. And what is that lesson? That they dare not cross Trump.

The judiciary, the press, and California are major centers of resistance to Trump, because they are independent of him. So he’s escalating his attacks on them. 

Trump doesn’t want any resistance. He wants total control.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.
Robert Reich

Robert Reich

Robert Reich, is the Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and a senior fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time magazine named him one of the 10 most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. His book include:  "Aftershock" (2011), "The Work of Nations" (1992), "Beyond Outrage" (2012) and, "Saving Capitalism" (2016). He is also a founding editor of The American Prospect magazine, former chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, "Inequality For All." Reich's newest book is "The Common Good" (2019). He's co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism," which is streaming now.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

'Donald Trump Has Finally Run Out of Places to Hide' as House Dems Get Tax Returns

"It's no longer a question of if he's hiding something big," one watchdog group asserted, "it's a question of what he's hiding."

Brett Wilkins ·


Democrats, Progressive Groups Push DOJ to Publish Database of 'Corporate Lawbreaking'

"The Corporate Crime Database Act will bring transparency to the corporate crime crisis so that the DOJ and other law enforcement agencies can better reckon with this greed-driven menace," said one advocate.

Kenny Stancil ·


As Corporations Enjoy Record-High Profits, Experts Urge Congress to 'Rein Them In'

"Today's record corporate profits mirror what we have been hearing on earnings call after earnings call: Corporations are gleefully reporting that their strategy to burden families with unnecessary price hikes is working."

Brett Wilkins ·


'Egregious': PFAS Firefighting Foam Spills at Notorious Red Hill Naval Facility in Hawaii

While officials said there is no evidence that drinking water was contaminated, the incident generated further local frustration with the closing fuel storage complex.

Jessica Corbett ·


House Passes Paid Sick Leave for Railway Workers Despite Opposition of 207 Republicans

"Now let's get it through the Senate," said Rep. Jamaal Bowman, who led the fight to add seven days of paid sick leave to a White House-brokered contract that failed to provide any to railroad workers.

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo