Norms Watch: Damage to Democracy and Rule of Law in October 2018

Here is the latest installment of Norms Watch, our series tracking the flouting of democratic norms by the Trump administration and the erosion those norms suffer as a result. This is our collection of the most significant breaks with democratic traditions that occurred in October 2018. Please let us know if you think we missed any.

1. As midterms approach, Trump orders deployment of thousands of U.S. troops to southern border, while hyping threat posed by immigrants

As the month of October draws to a close, the midterm elections on Nov. 6 consume most of President Donald Trump’s time and tweets, as he campaigns for GOP candidates across the country. A potential Democratic takeover of the House, and/or the Senate, could pose a threat to his presidency, and so, the president is not holding back. His closing campaign message is almost exclusively focused on immigration and the idea that undocumented immigrants pose a major threat to U.S. national security. His focus on the large groups of Central American immigrants traveling through Mexico and his order to deploy thousands of U.S. troops to the southern border to deter their entry into the U.S. was widely viewed as a campaign stunt, despite Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ defense of it.

Veterans slam Trump for border ‘stunt’ by CNN’s Zachary Cohen, Nicole Gaouette and Ryan Browne

Mattis on border troops: ‘We don’t do stunts’ by The Hill’s Ellen Mitchell

Trump says he’ll send 10,000-15,000 troops to border by POLITICO’s Matthew Choi

Map: How Trump’s border force compares to U.S. troop deployments worldwide by NBC News’ Nigel Chiwaya and Jiachuan Wu

Secretary Mattis, Defend This or Resign by Kelly Magsamen for Defense One

Trump considering blanket denial of asylum to Central American immigrants by McClatchy’s Anita Kumar

2. Trump administration misleads public on terrorism and immigration

To play up the threat posed by the Central American immigrants — who are fleeing gang violence in their home countries, and seeking either asylum or better economic opportunities in the U.S. — Trump and other officials in his administration have made claims about their links to terrorism that are unsupported by any evidence.

Trump says there’s ‘no proof’ that Middle Easterners have joined migrant caravan, although there ‘could very well be’ by The Washington Post’s John Wagner and Felicia Sonmez

Like His Boss, Pence Misleads Public About Terrorism and Immigration by  Harsha Panduranga and Faiza Patel for Just Security

A caravan of phony claims from the Trump administration by The Washington Post’s Salvador Rizzo

Counterterrorism official contradicts Trump: No sign ISIS or ‘Sunni terrorist groups’ are in caravan by CNN’s Jessica Schneider, Geneva Sands and David Shortell

Trump has misled the public on terrorism. Time to correct the record. by Joshua A. Geltzer and Nicholas J. Rasmussen for The Washington Post

3. Trump claims he can change constitutional law via executive order

With the election looming, Trump said he planned to sign an executive order that would remove the right to U.S. citizenship for babies of non-citizens and unauthorized immigrants born on U.S. soil, what is known as birthright citizenship. Birthright citizenship is recognized in the 14th Amendment’s citizenship clause.

Exclusive: Trump targeting birthright citizenship with executive order by Axios’ Jonathan Swan and Stef W. Kight

Trump’s plan to end birthright citizenship via executive order is as unconstitutional as it is transparent by Steve Vladeck for NBC

GOP civil war: Trump slams Paul Ryan for opposing end to birthright citizenship by NBC News’ Adam Edelman

For Many American Families, Abolishing Birthright Citizenship Is ‘Unthinkable’ by The New York Times’  Caitlin Dickerson and Miriam Jordan

4. Kavanaugh’s confirmation

It’s difficult to believe the month started with the hyper-partisan battle over the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. From Kavanaugh’s op-ed defending his impartiality to retired Justice John Paul Stevens speaking out against him, this brutal confirmation process was saw many firsts, with political and rule-of-law norms under serious pressure.

I Am an Independent, Impartial Judge by Brett M. Kavanaugh for the Wall Street Journal

Retired Justice John Paul Stevens Says Kavanaugh Is Not Fit for Supreme Court by The New York Times’ Adam Liptak

Hundreds of law professors sign letters rejecting Kavanaugh nomination by The Guardian’s Jon Swaine

All the Rules Are Changing by Bob Bauer for The Atlantic

McConnell’s rush to confirm Brett Kavanaugh sets a new norm he should expect Democrats to exploit next time by Robert Schlesinger for NBC

Dishing up lies while proclaiming the love of facts, Trump and Sarah Sanders gaslight America by The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan

Brett Kavanaugh’s partisanship by the Economist

5. Prominent Republicans Leave the GOP Over Trump

Several prominent long-standing Republican advisers and commentators left the GOP in recent months in response to Trump, and encouraged voters to pick Democratic candidates over Republican ones in the midterms. On Capitol Hill, there have been no such defections.

Why I’m Leaving the Republican Party by Tom Nichols for The Atlantic

Vote against all Republicans. Every single one. by Max Boot for The Washington Post

Vote against the GOP this November by George F. Will for the Washington Post

The only way to save the GOP is to defeat it by Michael Gerson for the Washington Post

‘Today I renounce my membership’: Longtime GOP strategist Steve Schmidt announces he’s leaving the party by The Washington Post’s Felicia Sonmez

6. The murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the Trump administration’s response

On. October 2, Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and resident of Virginia, entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and was never seen again. Turkish intelligence officials quickly revealed that Khashoggi had been killed inside, leaking information to American and Turkish journalists. The Saudi government initially denied the story completely. By the end of the month, it had admitted Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate, but continued to change its story about how he died and who was responsible. The Trump administration’s embrace of Saudi Arabia and its Crown Prince has been central to its foreign policy. As details emerged in the press, the president and his advisers struggled to condemn the murder without distancing the Kingdom.

Trump floats ‘rogue killers’ theory in case of missing journalist following call to Saudi King by USA Today’s Deirdre Shesgreen

Trump’s $110 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia: still fake by The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler

Exclusive: Defense firms see only hundreds of new U.S. jobs from Saudi mega deal by Reuters’ Mike Stone

Trump’s claim of jobs from Saudi deals grows by leaps and bounds by The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler

Conservatives mount a whisper campaign smearing Khashoggi in defense of Trump by The Washington Post’s By Robert Costa and Karoun Demirjian

Welcome to the jungle by Robert Kagan for The Washington Post

7. Attacks on the press

Trump continued his attacks on journalists, blaming the “fake news” media for spreading hatred and division in the country, even after CNN was one of the targets of Cesar Sayoc’s pipe bombs.

Trump hails body slamming Congressman Greg Gianforte in Montana by the BBC

Exclusive: Trump says supporters demand his red-hot rhetoric by Axios’ Jonathan Swan and Jim VandeHei

Trump slams the media as ‘the true Enemy of the People’ days after CNN was targeted with mail bombs by CNBC’s Kevin Breuninger

Why Trump Is Blaming the Media Down the Homestretch by The Atlantic’s David A. Graham

8. Handling of far-right attacks, from pipe bombs to Pittsburgh shooting

In the aftermath of a series of attacks from right-wing extremists that targeted prominent Democratic politicians, Jewish worshippers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, and two black people at a grocery store in Kentucky, Trump, at times, sounded presidential and condemned the attacks, but then would revert back to his usual divisive rhetoric on Twitter and on the campaign trail.

Trump condemns ‘terrorizing acts’ as despicable by CNN’s Stephen Collinson, Maegan Vazquez and Sarah Westwood

Donald Trump Tweet Features Nod To Mail Bomb Conspiracy Theory by the Huffington Post’s Hayley Miller

Trump and aides struggle to balance midterm attacks with empathy after synagogue massacre by The Washington Post’s  Philip Rucker, Ashley Parker and Josh Dawsey

9. In homestretch of campaign, Trump ramps up racist, misleading rhetoric and campaign ads

As Trump campaigned for GOP candidates across the country, he invented policy positions, accomplishments and facts out of thin air without providing any evidence. Oftentimes, his attacks against Democrats took on racial overtones, a strategy other Republicans also turned to.

Trump shocks with racist new ad days before midterms by CNN’s Stephen Collinson

Trump’s stump speech for Ted Cruz included his seemingly fake middle-class tax cut by Vox’s Tara Golshan

Trump, showing no evidence, calls Andrew Gillum a ‘thief’ by CNN’s Ryan Nobles, Greg Krieg and Devan Cole

GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter, Under Indictment, Launches False Attacks On Opponent by NPR’s Ina Jaffe

Trump’s stunning hypocrisy on preexisting conditions by Vox’s Sarah Kliff

10. Zinke Investigation

The inspector general for the Department of the Interior has referred its ethics and corruption investigation into Secretary Ryan Zinke to the Justice Department to see if it merits a criminal investigation.

Zinke’s own agency watchdog just referred him to the Justice Department by The Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin and Josh Dawsey

White House moves to replace Interior Department IG amid probe of Secretary Ryan Zinke by NBC News’ Laura Strickler

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

 

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