This is a significant aspect of Trump's presidency which has gotten very little attention.
Gag orders for his own people and lawsuits for everybody else, Trump has nobody’s interests in mind but his own
By Lucian K. Truscott IV
You need know only two things about the Trump presidency to understand what kind of man he is. We learned fairly early on that the Trump administration is the first in memory to bar release of its daily logs of visitors to the White House. More recently, we learned that Trump demanded from the start that all senior White House staff sign NDA’s, non-disclosure agreements, similar to the contracts signed by the employees of the Trump Organization and his campaign.
These are not actions taken by the president of a democracy. They are the actions of a dictator.
You cannot look to our nation’s past to find similar policies put in place by an American president. Do you think Barack Obama, or George Bush, or Ronald Reagan or even Richard Nixon had the temerity to conceal the identities of those with whom they met in carrying out the nation’s business? Do you think they thought of themselves as so all-powerful that they could contractually demand the kind of loyalty represented by signing a non-disclosure pact? You have to look overseas, to totalitarian regimes headed by dictatorial strongmen, to find anything comparable.
It took intervention with a lawsuit filed by the good-government group Public Citizen to get the logs of a few offices within the Executive Office of the President, including the Office of Management and Budget, released to the public. The names of all other visitors to the White House — everyone who sees the President, say, or the chief of staff, or “senior adviser” Jared Kushner — are kept secret. The Secret Service, which maintains the White House logs, has been instructed to forward all of the logs not covered by the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to the White House Office of Records Management, which is exempted from FOIA requests. That office has said that once the logs of visitors are received from the Secret Service, they are destroyed.
The non-disclosure agreements signed by White House staff are said to forbid talking about any “confidential” information, defined as “all non-public information I learn of or gain access to in the course of my official duties,” according to the Washington Post. One report on the White House NDA’s said that violation of the contracts could result in a $10 million fine payable to the federal government. Whether or not these contracts are enforceable — and legal experts say they aren’t – is beside the point. They are evidence that Trump cares only about loyalty to himself, not to the Constitution or the nation.
It is perhaps one of the greater ironies of the Trump presidency that his White House has leaked more to the press than any administration in memory. The latest leak to come out was the recent revelation that Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, met in the White House with the head of Apollo Global Management, one of the world’s largest private equity firms, and the CEO of Citigroup, just before both of those financial giants loaned more than a half billion dollars to Kushner’s private real estate company. The only reason we know that the two Kushner meetings is because someone in the White House talked to the press. If Trump had his way, knowledge of those meetings would have never been released, and if the identity of the person who revealed the meetings became known, he or she would have faced punishment under the flawed NDA’s that were signed.
I am focusing on these two policies because they are overt, tangible evidence of totalitarian actions taken by President Trump. But we have had plenty of other evidence of Trump’s totalitarian instincts. Since the beginning, it’s been evident that Trump is a bully who enjoys intimidating and pushing around anyone he thinks is in his way.
Remember “Little Marco” and “Lyin’ Ted” during the primaries? Trump’s bullying monikers for his opponents got a lot less amusing when “Crooked Hillary” morphed into chants of “lock her up” at the Republican National Convention and during his rallies. Back then, we had no way to know that he would turn the “lock her up” rallying cry into a very real threat when he started tweeting demands that his Attorney General use the Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute his former opponent for imaginary crimes involving uranium sold to Russia and the Clinton Foundation. This is not the way the presidents of democracies ordinarily act, but it is the way that dictators act all the time. A glance at prosecutions of opponents by the totalitarian regimes in Turkey and Russia tells you all you need to know. The only two leaders Trump speaks highly of consistently are Putin and Erdogan.
We know that Trump is an inveterate liar because the Washington Post has keep an actual running count of his lies (now topping 2,436) since he took office. There is another word for lying on this scale. It is propaganda, and Trump doesn’t just rely on his own lies to mislead the public. He has had his spokesman deliver lies from the podium in the White House press room quite literally since the day he took office, when Sean Spicer tried to make the laughable case that Trump’s inauguration was the best attended in history.
Trump and his people have lied repeatedly that they had no contacts with Russians during the campaign, even as it was revealed that such contacts were regular and frequent. His cabinet secretaries have lied about everything from their travel arrangements to how they expend taxpayer dollars to the qualifications of those they have nominated to positions within their departments. The only difference between the Trump administration and those of totalitarian leaders in other countries is that Trump doesn’t actually have a formal Department of Propaganda, although his press operations throughout the government effectively function as one.
Trump made it a feature of his White House to put members of his own family into positions of responsibility and power, and he loaded up his cabinet and administration with wealthy cronies who had no qualifications whatsoever for the jobs they were appointed to. Dictators of totalitarian regimes do the same thing. The recent interview on “60 Minutes” by his Secretary of Education, Betsy deVos, is as far as you need to go to understand how woefully unprepared and ignorant Trump’s appointees have been. Can you imagine Ben Carson, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, or Rick Perry, Secretary of Energy, doing any better? At least Rex Tillerson, while not exactly a towering figure in the world of foreign policy, had run an organization of equivalent size to the State Department and had negotiated business deals in countries all over the world. But now Trump has pushed Tillerson out, along with a plethora of senior staff at the White House, some of whom he hasn’t bothered replacing.
According to Maggie Haberman of the New York Times, Trump is said to be “more confident” in his job now that he has consolidated his power and gotten rid of some of the “adults in the room” who were supposed to be keeping him in check. Chief economic adviser Gary Cohn was supposed to be one of the people who would blunt Trump’s worst instincts. At least that’s what we have been told by Republican pooh-bahs who have sought to compartmentalize the President by pointing to “good Trump” (tax cuts for the rich) while ignoring or trying to conceal “bad Trump” (Russiagate, Stormy Daniels, tweeting, ignorance of and hostility to policy).
But there never was a “good Trump.” There is just Trump, and he made it crystal clear who he is when he called Vladimir Putin yesterday, against the advice of his national security team. Presidents of free nations don’t call brutal dictators and congratulate them on their fake “electoral victories,” but fellow dictators do.
LUCIAN K. TRUSCOTT IV
Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist and screenwriter. He has covered stories such as Watergate, the Stonewall riots and wars in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels and several unsuccessful motion pictures. He has three children, lives on the East End of Long Island and spends his time Worrying About the State of Our Nation and madly scribbling in a so-far fruitless attempt to Make Things Better. He can be followed on Facebook at The Rabbit Hole and on Twitter @LucianKTruscott.