July 18, 2019

Trump Unleashed

“There’s a certain rhythm to Donald Trump’s presidency over the past two years. First he does something even more egregious than usual, like defend violent white nationalists or side with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Then he hunkers down for the barrage of public criticism. The wave crests, and things return to normal, or at least some new version of it. Those episodes are occasionally described as “Peak Trump”—when the chaos and self-destructiveness of his presidency reaches its apex.

But now that the Russia investigation is over, ending the most immediate threat to his presidency, his behavior thus far may appear restrained in hindsight. In recent weeks, he’s shown himself willing to take even more adventurous steps to secure what he wants. Whether he’s categorically refusing to comply with congressional oversight, urging border agents to ignore judges, or reportedly offering pardons to immigration officials who defy the courts, Trump seems more eager than ever to test the electric fences of American democracy.

His predilections will take root in more favorable soil than ever. Attorney General Bill Barr has made clear over the past few weeks that he will be the loyal functionary whom Trump has long sought to install atop the Justice Department. White House advisor Stephen Miller oversaw a similar purge of the Department of Homeland Security last month, ousting Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and other top officials in favor of more hardline figures who could execute the president’s legally dubious vision for border security. And with the threat of special counsel Robert Mueller now receding, even Trump’s personal lawyers are eager for a Thermidorian response.”

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