Norms Watch: Damage to Democracy and Rule of Law in August 2019

Editor’s Note: Welcome to the latest installment of Norms Watch, our series tracking both the flouting of democratic norms by the Trump administration and the erosion of those norms in reactions and responses by others. This is our collection of the most significant breaks with democratic traditions that occurred in August 2019.

Staff turmoil remains a constant in the Trump White House

It seems that every month in the Trump administration there are dramatic departures, reports of backstabbing colleagues and presidential nominations defeated by scandal. August was no different. National Security Advisor John Bolton was kept out of key talks about Afghanistan, foreshadowing his departure in September. President Donald Trump’s personal assistant, Madeleine Westerhout, abruptly left after it was discovered she had spoken too candidly about the president’s family with reporters. And, Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas), Trump’s pick to replace Dan Coats as director of national intelligence, had to withdraw his nomination five days after his selection because he had exaggerated his experience on his resume. 

Trump’s Personal Assistant, Madeleine Westerhout, Steps Down by the New York Times’ Annie Karni and Maggie Haberman

Trump’s Personal Assistant, Madeleine Westerhout, Shared Intimate Details of First Family by the New York Times’ Katie Rogers, Annie Karni and Maggie Haberman

Bolton sidelined from Afghanistan policy as his standing with Trump falters by the Washington Post’s John Hudson and Josh Dawsey 

Trump’s pick to lead U.S. intelligence claims he arrested 300 illegal immigrants in a single day. He didn’t. by the Washington Post’s Robert O’Harrow Jr. and Shawn Boburg 

Ratcliffe withdraws from consideration for intelligence chief less than a week after Trump picked him by the Washington Post’s Shane Harris, Josh Dawsey, Ashley Parker and John Wagner 

Trump Administration Turnover Leads to Foreign Policy Turmoil by Fortune’s Tovin Lapan

Trump Wanted to Buy Greenland

Sources told the Wall Street Journal that Trump has repeatedly floated the idea of buying Greenland, the autonomous Danish territory, even asking his White House counsel to look into it. Leaders from Greenland and Denmark responded to the story by saying: We’re not for sale. This irked the president, so much so that he attacked the Danish prime minister, calling her “nasty,” and canceled a state visit. 

President Trump Eyes a New Real-Estate Purchase: Greenland by the Wall Street Journal’s Vivian Salama, Rebecca Ballhaus, Andrew Restuccia and Michael C. Bender

Greenland Tells Trump: ‘We’re Open for Business, Not for Sale’ by the Wall Street Journal’s Vivian Salama and Andrew Restuccia

Trump’s Interest in Buying Greenland Seemed Like a Joke. Then It Got Ugly. by the New York Times’ Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman

Trump cancels his state visit to Denmark over Greenland by Vox’s Jen Kirby

Trump Has Defected: The president crossed an important line when he canceled a meeting with the Danish prime minister. by Thomas Wright for the Atlantic 

Redefining Citizenship

The Trump administration and its supporters rolled out new roadblocks for people to become American citizens, taking steps to make it more difficult for people to apply for asylum, come in as refugees or obtain green cards. Articulating the administration’s xenophobic views, Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, attempted to rewrite the poem by Emma Lazarus written at the bottom of the Statue of Liberty, saying the poem referred to “people coming from Europe.”

Why the Trump administration is going after low-income immigrants, explained by an expert by Vox’s Aaron Rupar 

Trump Administration Tightens Policy on Children Born Overseas by Bloomberg’s Polly Mosendz and Michaela Ross

Cuccinelli: People Applying For Green Card Must Be Self-Sufficient, Not In Need Of Public Assistance by Real Clear Politics’ Ian Schwartz

Some children of US troops born overseas will no longer get automatic American citizenship, Trump administration says by Task and Purpose’s Haley Britzky 

SC’s Graham to change rules, break ties with Dems to curb asylum seekers at US border by McClatchy’s Emma Dumain

Immigration Chief: ‘Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor Who Can Stand On Their Own 2 Feet’ by NPR’s Sasha Ingber and Rachel Martin

‘Huddled Masses’ in Statue of Liberty Poem Are European, Trump Official Says by the New York Times’ Jacey Fortin

We hold these truths to be self-evident. Terms and conditions apply. by the Washington Post’s Alexandra Petri

El Paso shooting: Trump’s hateful rhetoric comes home to roost

A 21-year-old white man, looking to kill Mexicans, opened fire in a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, killing 22 people and injuring many more on August 3. The manifesto he left behind echoed the rhetoric Trump has used to describe migrants and asylum seekers from Central America, saying “this attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.” Trump’s attempts at fostering national unity and providing comfort to the grieving communities did not last long, as he used his Texas visit to attack local leaders and create a propaganda video for himself. 

El Paso Shooting Suspect’s Manifesto Echoes Trump’s Language by the New York Times’ Peter Baker and Michael D. Shear

Even before the El Paso mass shooting, Latinos said Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric made them feel unsafe by the Washington Post’s Rachel Hatzipanagos 

National Cathedral Leaders Condemn Trump’s Racism, Question Americans’ Silence in the Face of It by Slate’s Elliot Hannon 

‘We were safe until he started talking’: El Paso residents respond to President Trump by the LA Times’ David Montero and Jenny Jarvie

Trump attacks local leaders as he visits two cities grieving from mass shootings by the Washington Post’s Ashley Parker, Philip Rucker, Jenna Johnson and Felicia Sonmez 

White House Restricts Press Corps’ Access During Trump’s Visits To El Paso And Dayton by NPR

Trump versus the economy 

With the economy showing early signs of a slowdown, Trump railed against Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, who Trump appointed, and the “CRAZY INVERTED YIELD CURVE,” and continued to mislead the public about the costs of his trade war with China. 

Powell Highlights Fed’s Limits. Trump Labels Him an ‘Enemy’ by the New York Times’ Jeanna Smialek

Trump says the Fed is the ‘only problem’ with the economy, calls Powell ‘a golfer who can’t putt’ by CNBC’s Jeff Cox 

Trump is clearly scared about the economy, and he’s setting up Jerome Powell as his fall guy by the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake 

Trump Hits Fed Over ‘Crazy Inverted Yield Curve’ as Stocks Fall by Bloomberg’s Joshua Gallu

In Economic Warning Signals, Trump Sees Signs of a Conspiracy by the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman

Trump’s company could save millions if interest rates fall as he demands by the Washington Post’s Jonathan O’Connell, David A. Fahrenthold and Heather Long 

Trump blames companies impacted by his trade war by POLITICO’s Evan Semones 

How Trump Thinks Tariffs Work (And How They Actually Work) by the Atlantic’s Annie Lowrey

Netanyahu blocks U.S. Congresswomen from visiting Israel

Caving to a request from the president on Twitter, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prohibited two Democratic congresswomen from visiting Israel. Trump has repeatedly attacked Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), falsely accusing them of being terrorist sympathizers and enemies of Israel. 

Israel denies entry to Reps. Omar and Tlaib hours after Trump’s push for a ban by the Washington Post’s John Hudson, Ruth Eglash, Josh Dawsey and Rachael Bade 

Israeli Decision on Omar and Tlaib Inflames Politics in Two Countries by the New York Times’ Isabel Kershner, Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Peter Baker

Trump willing to cross rhetorical and legal lines to secure election victory

As the 2020 election season ramps up, Trump continues to insinuate that his political opponents are either not quite American or somehow criminal. Meanwhile, he appears OK with officials breaking the law and making up stories — even ones that include foreign officials — if it would make his administration look better or appear to be fulfilling campaign promises. 

Trump campaign attacks AOC, Democrats: ‘This is our country, not theirs’ by NBC News’ Dartunorro Clark

Trump’s large union crowd at Shell was given the option of not showing up — and not getting paid by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Anya Litvak

‘Take the land’: President Trump wants a border wall. He wants it black. And he wants it by Election Day. by the Washington Post’s Nick Miroff and Josh Dawsey 

A rattled Trump scrambles for victories ahead of election by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, Kevin Liptak, Jeremy Diamond and Dana Bash

After 24 Hours, China Still Unaware of Calls Mentioned by Trump by Bloomberg News

G-7 format changed to avoid spat with Trump

Not wanting to repeat what happened at last year’s G-7 summit in Quebec (Trump trash-talked Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and refused to sign a joint communiqué), French president Emmanuel Macron abandoned the tradition of a final joint communiqué ahead of this year’s meeting in Biarritz. While avoiding the big drama of last year, the meeting was still dominated by headlines about Trump skipping a meeting on climate change and suggesting Russian President Vladimir Putin could be invited to next year’s summit, which, Trump said, could be held at the Trump National Doral Miami Golf Resort. 

Macron says G7 will not issue joint communiqué to avoid row among leaders by the Financial Times’ Victor Mallet

Trump skips G7 climate summit with aides claiming scheduling conflict by CNN’s Kevin Liptak

World Leaders’ G7 Expectations: A Nice Chat, Some Good Wine, No Unity With Trump by the New York Times’ Michael D. Shear and Jim Tankersley

Trump wants to host the 2020 G-7 meeting at his Miami golf course. Can he do that? by NBC News’ Lauren Egan

Trump renews call for Russia to join G-7 group by CNBC’s Amanda Macias

Trump publishes sensitive satellite photo of Iran 

In a tweet about Iran, Trump included a photo that many believe came from one of America’s most advanced spy satellites. The image showed the aftermath of an accident at Iran’s Imam Khomeini Space Center. 

Trump Tweeted a Sensitive Photo. Internet Sleuths Decoded It by Wired’s Daniel Oberhaus

The photo Trump tweeted out from a classified briefing likely came from one of the US’s most secretive spy satellites by Business Insider’s Ryan Pickrell and Sonam Sheth 

Experts worry Trump revealed US secrets when he tweeted a photo of an Iranian launch site by Vox’s Anya van Wagtendonk

From “I am the chosen one” to Melania met Kim Jong Un: Trump’s bizarre statements

The New Yorker’s Susan Glasser summed it up best, “President Trump ended August as he began it, with a blast of angry tweets, ad-hominem insults, and bizarre fulminations that have become so standard that they no longer receive the attention they deserve—emanating, as they do, from the world’s most powerful leader.” The month saw its share of outrageous insults, strange lies and wacky proposals from the president. Here are just a few of them. 

Trump’s Wacky, Angry, and Extreme August by the New Yorker’s Susan B. Glasser 

White House clarifies that Melania Trump has not met Kim Jong Un by POLITICO’s Caitlin Oprysko

‘I am the Chosen One’: with boasts and insults, Trump sets new benchmark for incoherence by the Guardian’s Tom McCarthy 

Scoop: Trump suggested nuking hurricanes to stop them from hitting U.S. by Axios’ Jonathan Swan and Margaret Talev

Image: Words from ‘The New Colossus’ poem by Emma Lazarus are engraved on the Emma Lazarus Memorial Plaque in Battery Park on August 14, 2019 in New York City. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

 

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About the Author(s)

Kate Brannen

Editorial Director of Just Security; nonresident senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council; previously senior reporter covering the Pentagon for Foreign Policy. Follow her on Twitter (@K8brannen).