FREEDOM IN THE WORLD 2020: United States

“The United States is a federal republic whose people benefit from a vibrant political system, a strong rule-of-law tradition, robust freedoms of expression and religious belief, and a wide array of other civil liberties. However, in recent years its democratic institutions have suffered erosion, as reflected in partisan manipulation of the electoral process, bias and dysfunction in the criminal justice system, flawed new policies on immigration and asylum seekers, and growing disparities in wealth, economic opportunity, and political influence.”

It Wasn’t Tear Gas. It Was a Gaseous Substance That Causes Tears.

“No, President Donald Trump didn’t have police shoot tear gas at innocent people so he could pose for a pic with an upside-down Bible. Both the president and his lackeys at certain media outlets want to make sure we’re clear on that. You see, the truth is that Trump had police bombard a law-abiding crowd with a gaseous substance that produces tears.

You see the difference? Not really? It doesn’t matter. We’re talking about this right now, and that’s what Trump boosters and predator-cop stans want. The more time people spend debating the difference between tear gas and “smoke canisters and pepper balls,” the less focus on the fact that the Trump administration had peaceful citizens attacked so he could pretend on camera to be brave and religious.

This is the same tactic we’ve seen again and again from the Trump administration: deny, shift stories, and quibble over inane particulars.

It doesn’t matter if most media or even most Americans don’t really buy the administration’s deflections and lies. The point is to shift the public conversation, give Trump supporters an easy retort to critics, and to present enough reasonable doubt that folks not especially attuned to politics tune out. Getting people to see this as just another far-removed partisan squabble is essential to covering up the heinous and extreme nature of the stunt the administration pulled in Lafayette Square.”

“Trump folks want to pretend that masses of individual protesters and members of the press were lying, in coordination, to trick people into thinking the administration behaved worse than it did. But the fact of the matter is that being tear-gassed and being bombarded with a pepper-spray bomb produce the same effects, and people were reporting on what they had experienced and witnessed directly.

Accuracy in media matters, of course, and Reason has often been the first to point out when most press is getting a story wrong. But reporting accurately and truthfully means doing the absolute best you can with the facts that are available to you, admitting what you don’t know, and updating your narrative when new information arrives. And it certainly doesn’t mean describing things in exactly the terms that government officials or other powerful people prefer you to use.

The Trump administration might not want to call the substance law enforcement agents deployed “tear gas.” But under the common understanding of tear gas—”an umbrella term for about a half-dozen so-called ‘riot-control agents’ or ‘less lethal’ chemical weapons” per Mother Jones—and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s definition, it was.”

Our Caesar Can the country come back from Trump? The Republic already looks like Rome in ruins.

“in so many ways, ancient Rome is profoundly different from the modern U.S. It had no written constitution; it barely had a functioning state or a unified professional military insulated from politics. Many leaders were absent from Rome for long stretches of time as they waged military campaigns abroad. There was no established international order, no advanced technology, and only the barest of welfare safety nets.
But there is a reason the Founding Fathers thought it was worth deep study. They saw the destabilizing consequences of a slaveholding republic expanding its territory and becoming a vast, regional hegemon. And they were acutely aware of how, in its final century and a half, an astonishing republican success story unraveled into a profoundly polarized polity, increasingly beset by violence, shedding one established republican norm after another, its elites fighting among themselves in a zero-sum struggle for power. And they saw how the weakening of those norms and the inability to compromise and mounting inequalities slowly corroded republican institutions. And saw, too, with the benefit of hindsight, where that ultimately led: to strongman rule, a dictatorship.”

Trump’s purge of inspectors general, explained

“Linick isn’t the first inspector general Trump has lost confidence in recently. Since April, the president has fired two permanent IGs and replaced three acting inspectors general.
This has raised fears that the president — who has balked at pretty much any form of oversight during his tenure — is now targeting the watchdogs serving in his administration. Especially those who, in the course of doing their jobs, embarrass or implicate the president and his close associates in wrongdoing.

Trump does have the power to fire inspector generals, who, as executive branch appointees, serve at the pleasure of the president. But inspectors general are tasked with auditing and investigating that same executive branch — a job that could become increasingly challenging if these officials face retaliation for what they audit and investigate.

Congress and the American people rely on inspectors general, at least in part, to help the government run more efficiently and fairly. Inspectors general do not always succeed in this aim, but undermining the institution could be detrimental to oversight.”

“Congress purposely designed these roles to be slightly different from the average political appointee. “The original legislation built in a number of signals, if you will, that this person was supposed to be independent,” said Charles A. Johnson, professor emeritus of political science at Texas A&M University and co-author of US Inspectors General: Truth Tellers in Turbulent Times.

Inspectors general, Congress said, should be selected “without regard to political affiliation” and “solely on the basis of integrity and demonstrated ability” in fields like financial management, law, and public administration.

In 2008, Congress reformed the IG law, adding provisions that would, ideally, better protect the independence of inspectors general. The law formalized a Council of the Inspectors General for Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE), an organization of all IGs that examines best practices and promotes professional development.

This reform law also included a provision that said a president must give Congress 30 days’ notice if he intended to dismiss an IG, and that the president must provide a reason to congressional leaders.”

“Trump has fired two confirmed inspectors general: Linick, as discussed above, and Michael Atkinson, who was the inspector general for the intelligence community. Trump has replaced or moved to replace three other acting inspectors general from their jobs; however, since they were serving in an acting capacity, the personnel shuffle could be done without notifying Congress.

Each of these dismissals — and particularly those of Linick and Atkinson — stunk of retaliation, as the IGs had recently taken actions or instigated investigations that embarrassed or had the potential to embarrass Trump or his political allies. That is, historically, precisely what Congress has wanted to avoid: the politicization of these watchdog roles.”

“Acting IGs often don’t have the authority or stature of Senate-confirmed officials, and that can diminish the credibility of IGs or their work, even though the acting IGs in question, like Fine, may have stellar credentials and deep experience working in the IG community.

So generally, relying on acting IGs isn’t ideal. But the problem with Trump’s reshuffle is that his comments and behavior don’t exactly indicate he’s eager for and interested in robust oversight. He’s accused long-serving IGs of being Obama administration holdovers, though they are career officials. (And, even during the Obama administration, their job was the same: to investigate.)

Trump has bristled at oversight throughout his presidency, seeing it not as an opportunity for reform but as a personal attack. And though Congress will ultimately vet his picks for the permanent roles, Trump has removed some of these qualified acting IGs and replaced them with hand-picked and unvetted successors in the interim.”

“Trump’s purge of inspectors general is dangerous because it threatens to undermine the independence of the office and politicize the institution.

That could have a chilling effect on the work of inspectors general. Inspectors general might become reluctant to initiate studies or audits, and agency heads may ignore findings of mismanagement or worse uncovered by IGs, Newcomer told me. “The agency head may feel like, ‘Oh, we don’t really need to worry about implementing these recommendations because, worse comes to worst, we’ll just have the IG fired,’” she said.”

“Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) — who’s historically been a big advocate for IGs — wrote a letter to the White House asking for more information about why Atkinson and Linick were dismissed. The White House Counsel responded that, basically, Trump had lost confidence in the two officials and that it was his prerogative to fire them if he wished.

Grassley said Tuesday that the White House’s response was insufficient. “If the president has a good reason to remove an inspector general, just tell Congress what it is,” Grassley said. “Otherwise, the American people will be left speculating whether political or self interests are to blame. That’s not good for the presidency or government accountability.”

Grassley also objected to the placement of political appointees in acting roles, which raises concerns about conflicts of interest.

But Grassley’s objections might not matter. Congress does have some tools here: They could investigate, they could hold hearings. Democrats are doing that, but they will probably have much more weight and meaning if they’re bipartisan affairs. And so far, Trump’s Republican allies in Congress have been reluctant to push the president too hard. Expressions of concern have rarely motivated the president to change course.”

The most chilling aspect of Trump’s Monday night crackdown on law-abiding protesters

“The officers began their assault just after 6:30 pm — less than half an hour before a 7 pm curfew that had already been ordered by DC Mayor Muriel Bowser was set to take effect. Legally speaking, the crowd should have dispersed then and there would have been no problem with the president strolling across the park to do his photo op at St John’s Church. Realistically, the odds are good that the crowd would not have dispersed. But starting at 7 pm, a group of officers forcibly expelling protesters from the park would have been enforcing the law.

Doing it at 6:36 pm or so served no real purpose except to make the law enforcement action flagrantly abusive. And that itself sends a powerful message.”

The White House’s explanation for a tear gas attack on peaceful protesters doesn’t add up

“Just minutes before President Donald Trump was scheduled to give a speech in the White House Rose Garden about the anti–police brutality protests, law enforcement officers outside the White House launched tear gas at hundreds of peaceful protesters gathered in neighboring Lafayette Square.
It produced a shocking scene of federal officials shooting a weapon banned from warfare at Americans. The crowd scattered, allowing Secret Service, National Guard, and Park Police personnel to make a path for Trump and his team to visit a nearby church after his address.

That led to widespread speculation that Trump or someone else at the White House had ordered the tear gas attack solely to give Trump the photo op he wanted with his team at St. John’s Episcopal Church, a recent cause célèbre among the right after its basement was partially burned during the unrest on Sunday night.”

“I asked the White House, via email, a simple question: “Do [you] know who gave the order to clear the crowd in Lafayette Square with tear gas?”

Here’s the response from Judd Deere, a White House spokesperson: “The perimeter was expanded to help enforce the 7:00 pm curfew in the same area where rioters attempted to burn down one of our nation’s most historic churches the night before. Protesters were given three warnings by the US Park Police.”

This explanation is suspect for several reasons — the most important being that, although DC Mayor Bowser had ordered a curfew for DC starting at 7 pm, video of the incident shows that law enforcement fired the tear gas well before then.

Second, the statement did not address the question of who gave the order.

And third, the statement explicitly mentions the church, which seems to signal that the goal of the whole ordeal was to get Trump to St. John’s no matter what.”

“Let’s be clear about what this means: The White House is explicitly not denying that Trump or another administration official greenlit the tear gas attack, and there’s no clear explanation why anyone thought using tear gas on peaceful protesters was warranted just so the president could have a photo op.

At a time when citizens across the country are taking to the streets by the thousands to demand accountability for unchecked police violence, the White House — perhaps even the president himself — seems to have made a conscious decision to respond to one of those (entirely peaceful) protests with more unchecked police violence.”