Sen. Warren was giving a lengthy speech.
She had appeared to violate the rule.
She was warned.
She was given an explanation.
Nevertheless, she persisted.
– Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
Republicans — President Donald Trump along with lawmakers in the Senate and the House — have discarded any pretense they might have had of civility and upholding norms, standards and even the rule of law. For them it’s all about gaining raw power and using power to benefit “their side” and to shut down their “enemies.”
These enemies include the free press, the judicial branch, an entire religion, war refugees, an entire political party, the seasoned “establishment” of their own political party and anyone who might get in the way of their use and abuse of power.
We are tumbling down the slippery slope to autocracy. What can we do? We can emulate Sen. Elizabeth Warren and persist as we resist.
Trump Challenges Judicial Authority
Trump repeatedly shows contempt for the judicial branch of our government. Before his election, he tried to discredit the judge who was overseeing the “Trump U” fraud case against him, saying judge Gonzalo Curiel “happens to be, we believe, Mexican.” Trump told CNN’s Jake Tapper that Curiel had an “inherent conflict of interest” because, “he’s a Mexican. We’re building a wall between here and Mexico.” The judge, in fact, was born in Indiana, not Mexico.
Now, in the court battle over Trump’s Muslim-banning immigration restrictions Trump again showed his disrespect for the judiciary. He referred to a “so-called judge” hearing the original case, tweeting, “The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!”
The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 4, 2017
Then later, “Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens, blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!”
Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 5, 2017
Trump has also tried to discredit the federal judges hearing the appeal, saying, “I don’t want to call a court biased, so I won’t call it biased.” He went on to call it biased anyway, saying “Courts seem to be so political and it would be so great for our justice system if they could read a statement and do what’s right.” He impugned the judges involved, saying, “A bad high school student would understand this. Anybody would understand this.” And threatened the idea of respect for an independent judiciary, saying, “But I have to be honest that if these judges wanted to, in my opinion, help the court in terms of respect for the court, they do what they should be doing. It’s so sad.”
In his article headlined President Trump is not-so-subtly threatening the entire American court system, Washington Post reporter Aaron Blake says,
If that isn’t a threat to marshal support against the American court system and fight it politically, I’m not sure what is. Trump is basically saying: That’s a nice reputation you’ve got there. It’d be a shame if something happened to it.
[. . .] [C]omments like the ones Trump made Wednesday at the very least seem geared toward…sending a message that judges…won’t be immune from his political wrath. And when they issue a decision he doesn’t like, Trump is saying, they’re going to pay the same price as a senator who votes the wrong way on a bill.
Warren Silenced in the Senate
In 1986, Coretta Scott King wrote a letter opposing Sessions’ nomination for a federal judgeship. She declared,
Anyone who has used the power of his office as United States Attorney to intimidate and chill the free exercise of the ballot by citizens should not be elevated to our courts. Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters. For this reprehensible conduct, he should not be rewarded with a federal judgeship.
Jeff Sessions went on to become a Republican senator from Alabama instead. On Wednesday evening, his former colleagues voted 52-47 to make him Trump’s attorney general. As is customary in these circumstances, he abstained, voting “present.” The vote split along party lines, with Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, becoming the only member of the minority party to support the nominee by joining with every Republican but Sessions in supporting him.
During the debate over Sessions’ nomination, Warren tried to read King’s 1986 letter. Then this happened:
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Republicans silenced the Massachusetts Democrat for reading aloud a critical letter from three decades ago about the nominee the Senate was debating. Republicans used an obscure rule to silence her, based on the nominee also being a sitting senator.
Silencing Warren is the legislative equivalent to Trump’s challenging authority of judges.
People went on Twitter to ask Senate Republicans to #LetLizSpeak
“Nevertheless, She Persisted”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell later explained why Senate Republicans silenced Sen. Warren. His explanation, “Sen. Warren was giving a lengthy speech. She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
Slippery Slope Toward Autocracy
Lawrence Tribe, a prominent constitutional law professor at Harvard University, responded to Warren’s silencing in a series of tweets that compared Trump’s autocratic tendencies with what Warren called her “red-carding,”
When Trump equates our errors with how Putin deals with political opponents, we should reflect on how Sen. Warren’s critique of Jeff Sessions would go down in Putin’s Russia. Then reflect on how McConnell’s outrageous silencing of Warren takes us a dangerous step toward autocracy and a society we won’t recognize unless we stop this scary slide down a very slippery slope.
Again, Warren’s silencing in the Senate was a dangerous step toward autocracy.
In the House, Democrats John Conyers Jr (D-Mich.), Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) announced Wednesday they are introducing a resolution declaring that each branch of government “deserves the respect of the others,” that “an independent judiciary is fundamental to the checks and balances embodied by the separation of powers, is essential to maintaining respect for the rule of law, and is critical to our constitutional democracy; attacks against the judiciary, as an institution, threaten to weaken public confidence in the courts as a fair and impartial arbiter of the law” and finally that,
Whether or not one agrees with the substance of a particular judicial decision, it is inappropriate for sitting presidents, or other government officials, to engage in ad hominem attacks against a judge, or otherwise place political pressure designed to undermine the independence of that judge, or to erode trust in the entire court system.
Will that get even a single Republican vote in the House? We’ll see. It gets my vote.
Resistance Moves Forward
Trump’s attacks on the judiciary are also on that slippery slope toward autocracy. How do we fight this?
The lesson for us is that we must keep up the resistance. Like Warren, we must persist. The people are on our side. As my colleague Richard Eskow pointed out earlier this week, early polling shows that Americans Like the Resistance a Lot More Than They Like Trump,
For Donald Trump, this has got to hurt: Less than two weeks after his inauguration, the people who took to the streets to protest his policies have outstripped him in popularity.
And, given his rich history of “locker room banter” and other sexist comments, it must be especially humiliating for Trump to know that the biggest mobilizations of protesters who bested him were led by women.
Resistance moves forward.
Senator Warren persists. Now it’s our turn. We will persist as we resist.