Former Secretary of State Colin Powell on Sunday said he doesn’t believe President Trump can be a moral leader, adding that it has become “me the president” for Trump, instead of “we the people.” “My favorite three words in our Constitution is the first three words — ‘We the People.’ ‘We the People.’ But recently it’s become ‘me the president,’ as opposed to ‘We the People.’ And you see things that should not be happening,” the former U.S. Army general said on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS.” Powell pointed to Trump’s attacks on the press, which the president has dubbed “the enemy of the people,” as well as his tendency to insult his opponents and different groups of people. “How can a president of the United States get up and say that the media is the enemy of Americans? Hasn’t he read the First Amendment? You’re not supposed to like everything the press says or what anyone says in the First Amendment,” Powell said.
“And I hope the president can come to the realization that he should really stop insulting people. And I used this two years ago when I said I could not vote for him in the 2016 election — and why? He insulted everybody,” Powell added, noting Trump’s attacks on African-Americans, immigrants, women and his fellow candidates for president. Powell added later in the interview that “the world is watching” and that the world “cannot believe that we are doing things like separating mothers and children who were trying to get across the border,” referencing Trump’s former “zero tolerance” immigration policy. The policy, which referred adults who crossed the border for criminal prosecution, resulted in numerous parents being separated from their children.
Fox’s old, overwhelmingly white, conservative audience hasn’t abandoned it. Fox News viewers have proved to be some of the most loyal in television, studiously tuning in every night to watch the network’s primetime hosts rail against left-wing conspiracies and cheerlead for Trump. Viewers have seemingly tuned in to Fox’s primetime opinion shows no matter who hosts, so long as they continue to push staunchly right-wing viewpoints. Trump has also changed the perception of Fox News. The president has acted as both a megaphone and a sounding board for the network, repeatedly echoing the same attacks on more mainstream media outlets that conservatives made for years, and picking up arguments from shows like ‘Fox & Friends’ and Hannity. In turn, Fox News has similarly acted as a cheerleader for Trump’s beliefs, creating a presidential-media feedback chamber like no other in modern American history.
In many ways, Trump built his campaign on the main programming themes that Fox News has run for years: the perceived victimization of conservatives by the left and the media. Charlie Sykes, a longtime conservative radio host, noted that the scandals and boycotts haven’t hurt Fox because the network understands it will stay in business by “tending to and feeding the tribe.” “Fox followed their audience into full-on Trumpism, making themselves into a safe space for the right,” Sykes said. “The scandals don’t hurt Fox for the same reasons that Trump’s scandals and lies don’t seem to hurt him. Fox is a reflection of this new political culture as much as they are its creator.” “The audience/base don’t care as long as they own the libs.”
“I support conservatives on the court,” Kasich said Sunday, pointing to the country’s political divisions. “But it would make sense to work with a Democrat who would say, ‘OK, I know it’s gonna be conservative, alright let me help you to pick somebody so that we don’t go through this.’ ” Kasich also said that “confidence in the court has already been eroded.” “We would hope that the court will now move in a direction where they can make decisions. And I would hope that the court will not become ideological,” Kasich said. “That would begin to erode confidence in the court.” He added that all branches of government are losing respect under President Trump, of whom Kasich has been a fervent critic. “Congress is disrespected. The press is disrespected. The Justice Department is disrespected,” he said. “And the court is beginning to lose respect.”
When Donald Trump was elected, scholars of American politics ferociously debated the future of the Republican Party. Optimists argued that Trump had little support in the GOP, and would slowly be reined in by movement conservatives like Paul Ryan and Lindsey Graham. Pessimists like me argued that Trump had a lot of support among the Republican base and would be able to reshape the party in his own image after a protracted civil war. He and his allies would start running primary candidates to challenge more traditional conservatives and eventually replace the current crop of officeholders. It turned out that both camps of the debate were thoroughly naïve. Once Trump became the figurehead of the Republican Party, the full partisan tribalism of this ugly political moment came to drive conservatives into his arms. He didn’t need many actual primary challengers, much less a protracted civil war, to reshape the GOP in his image. Some conservatives, like Ryan, simply decided to vacate the field. Others, like Graham, reinvented themselves as Trumpian populists. Two years into the president’s reign, the Republican Party has become a blind tool of his whim.
I fear that we may now be on the cusp of making the same mistake all over again, vastly underestimating how quickly and thoroughly the Supreme Court might flip—not just from left to right, but from liberal to authoritarian. As recently as a few months ago, I would have argued that the Supreme Court would likely act as a bulwark against a naked power grab from the executive even if conservatives were to gain a majority on it. For all of my disagreements with them, Neil Gorsuch and John Roberts have, after all, historically had little ideological overlap with Trump. While they might have deeply conservative views on important issues like abortion or campaign finance, they also hold deeply conservative views about the rule of law and the separation of powers. And that of course included a strong commitment to such basic constitutional principles as the importance of Congress or the independence of institutions like the FBI.
Reflecting on my own failure to predict how fast the GOP would flip, the shocking series of decisions the court issued over the course of the past year, and most of all the remarkable transformation that Brett Kavanaugh has undergone in a matter of weeks, I am no longer so sure of that prediction. At the beginning of the confirmation process, Kavanaugh presented himself as an apolitical jurist. Invoking the metaphor that helped John Roberts ascend to the highest court in the land, he promised to be a disinterested umpire who simply calls balls and strikes. While the charade was somewhat transparent—the court has long since become sufficiently politicized that presidents of both parties pick their judicial nominees in part because they know that they are more likely to be sympathetic to their side—it was also a typical case of hypocrisy being the tribute that vice pays to virtue. At the very least, Kavanaugh seemed to recognize the importance of avoiding the appearance of rank partisanship. The mask he was determined to wear would have allowed him to favor Republicans once he took his place on the country’s most hallowed bench—but not in such a blatant manner as to cheer on a naked power grab by the executive.
By the time Kavanaugh appeared in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee to defend himself against accusations of sexual assault, he was ready to tear off his mask and start mauling the libs. If the accusations against him were false—perhaps even if he mistakenly believed them to be false—it would certainly be understandable that he was deeply angry. But even then, it would never have been acceptable for a potential justice on the Supreme Court to give such a nakedly partisan performance, accusing Democratic senators of exacting revenge on behalf of the Clintons and angrily denouncing “the left.” Perhaps we should be grateful that Kavanaugh no longer feels the need to even pay lip service to virtue. For it allows us to look at the current situation in the bright light of unvarnished truth.
Supreme Court justices are no umpires. They are partisans, and increasingly naked ones to boot. In more ordinary times, that in itself would be bad enough. But in the extraordinary times in which we now live, it is terrifying. For as congressional Republicans have found over the past two years, to remain a member in good standing of the conservative tribe, it no longer suffices to embrace conservative social values or to have reverence for the constitution. Rather, it now means a willingness to ride the wave of conservative resentment wherever it may take you—and of course to back its foul-mouthed spokesman, whatever he might choose to do.
But let’s be crystal clear about this: Liberals are not the ones who are out of touch. Conservatives are. Virtually every poll I saw showed healthy pluralities and sometimes outright majorities opposing Kavanaugh’s confirmation. An NPR-PBS-Marist poll had it 52-40 against. News reports didn’t often provide this context I’m about to give you, but this was astonishing. Historically, most people don’t pay close attention to Supreme Court nominations, and they just assume that if the president chooses someone, there must be a good reason. Strong pluralities continued to back Clarence Thomas in 1991 even after Anita Hill testified. It’s extremely unusual, and possibly unprecedented, for most Americans to oppose a Supreme Court nominee. But it’s the case here.
It is also a fact that more Americans believed Christine Blasey Ford than believed Kavanaugh. That same NPR-PBS poll had it at 45 percent believing Ford, and 32 percent Kavanaugh. Republicans, not Democrats, are in the minority. Yes, they do have a majority in the Senate, which is why this happened. And Kavanaugh passed by one vote. His 50 votes may have represented in this case the bare majority of the Senate, but the senators who voted to confirm him do not represent 50 percent of the country. It isn’t even close. Assigning half a state’s population to each voting senator and doing a little rounding produces the result: Senators who voted for Kavanaugh represent around 145 million Americans, while senators who voted against him represent 181 million. That’s 56 to 44 percent, with the will of the majority brazenly thwarted by the most unrepresentative legislative body in the democratic world.
And of course let’s not forget, and yes it’s fair and entirely relevant, that Kavanaugh was nominated in the first place by a president who lost the popular vote and of whom a minority of Americans approve. Angry? You bet we are. But crazy? Out of touch? Absolutely not. We who oppose Kavanaugh are the majority. We are the decent people of the heartland. Do anything you can this week to help make sure they don’t get away with saying these things. Email or tweet mainstream journalists you see falling for this meme. Politely remind coworkers that more Americans opposed Kavanaugh’s elevation than supported it, and that more Americans believed Dr. Ford than believed him. Whatever you can do. The ultimate goal of the conservative narrative is to create an atmosphere that depresses Democratic turnout. They’re doing this because they’re terrified that what they’ve done is going to send turnout among liberals and women in particular through the roof. On that one point alone, let’s go out on November 6 and prove them right.
Insidious is the man. Insidious is his pollution of the F.B.I., whose former director, James Comey, he fired after Comey refused to show “loyalty.” Loyalty in this instance meant willingness to shelve, at Trump’s demand, an investigation into dealings between his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and Russia. Now the F.B.I. — given a week to investigate what happened 36 years ago between Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford — concludes an investigation on which the lives of our children and grandchildren may hinge in less than a week. It does so as Trump, speaking behind the seal of the president of the United States, unloads his bile on Dr. Blasey.
Contagious is the man. Contagious is Trump’s view that judges should be agents of those who appoint them rather than the independent guarantors of America’s constitutional democracy. Trump wants loyalty from Kavanaugh, too, and the angry, emotional testimony that the judge provided to the Senate Judiciary Committee carried this subliminal message: “I am one of yours.” It was right out of the Trump playbook. The Supreme Court is the ultimate arbiter of the rule of law. It was conceived as a critical part of the political system, not as just another venue for ordinary, ugly, polarized politics. Kavanaugh’s confirmation would be the capstone to a shift in that direction. Courts were meant to be America’s great levelers, not their great dividers and inciters.
Poisonous is the man. Poisonous is Trump’s inability to abandon mob incitement as his mode of political operation. Meanness is how this man gets his kicks. Always was, always will be. It has become axiomatic to regret the tribal division of the United States — the inability to build bridges or even hold conversations across ideological divides, the sharpening national fracture into algorithm-consolidated political silos — and, of course, the Kavanaugh hearings now constitute Exhibit A in this unraveling. There’s something pathetic about these laments. No call for civility or the capacity for civilized disagreement (the sign of any healthy society) has any weight when, from the highest office in the land, there emanates a stream of partisan vilification. The Oval Office either ennobles Americans or befouls them. There is no escape from the current poison, other than to vote Trump out.
Corrupting is the man. Corrupting is a presidency dedicated to the blurring of the line between truth and falsehood. False or misleading statements have issued from him several times a day. It’s impossible to recall on Friday the lie that outraged you on Monday. The effect of this is to devalue truth. More and more Americans care little for the sacredness of facts. I see references, even in the nation’s best newspapers, to the “reality-based press” or “fact-based journalism.” What other kind is there? In the end, the Kavanaugh hearings have been about the pursuit of truth — the truth of this Jekyll-and-Hyde man, the truth of whether he assaulted Dr. Blasey, the truth of his words. I believe he failed the test of truth in ways that disqualify him from confirmation. But the meaning of honesty is not something Americans can agree on any more. So the hearings have been about everything but that: white privilege, the #MeToo movement and, of course, Donald Trump.
Corrosive is the man. Corrosive is the pollution of the F.B.I. that now seems about to be extended to the Supreme Court. Other pillars of the Republic, including a free press, are in Trump’s sights. Behind the scattershot outbursts, there is a consistent pattern. It conforms to all we know about a president whose sympathies lie with the autocrats of the world, from Moscow to Manila, rather than with democratic leaders. Free societies do not die overnight. The growth of a climate of intellectual fear is one sign of their weakening. So are the development of a personality cult, the stripping of meaning from language and the spread of disorientation. Infectious is the man. Infectious is Trump’s hard work to bring the whole country down to his level. A spineless Republican Party folds into the Trump Party. Uncle Sam wants you in his indecent reality show. If, as now seems likely, Kavanaugh is confirmed, Trump will be confirmed; and the damage this president has done will look more irreparable in the age of the judge-agent.
Here are more articles about Kavanaugh if you can access Washington Post articles. These links aren’t live based on our need to limit outbound links, but you can look up any op-eds you’d like to read: