This is getting dangerous, Margaret Valenti writes. The White House’s threat to John Bolton is just a pattern of threats and obstructive abuses of democracy from a President trying to mitigate a crisis of his own making.
Allegations from John Bolton, former National Security Advisor under the current White House administration, claim that President Trump told him that they could not release the $391 million-dollar security aid package to Ukraine; not until the country’s government launched an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter about their respective involvements in Ukraine (politically and relating to Burisma). Bolton may reveal all in a memoir set for release on March 17th, 2020.
Letter From The National Security Council
Bolton’s book, which Simon & Schuster would publish, titled The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoire, is under threat from the White House and Donald Trump. In a comparable situation to the related tell-all book, A Warning, that the mysterious Anonymous wrote, the White House sent a letter to Bolton’s lawyers that claims the contents of the book are a threat to national security because it details classified information.
In the letter to John Bolton’s lawyers, the Trump White House — the National Security Council specifically — states that his book “based on [their] preliminary review, the manuscript appears to contain significant amounts of classified information . . . at the TOP SECRET level, which is defined by Executive Order 13526 as information that ‘. . . could be expected to cause exceptionally grave harm to the national security’ of the United States if disclosed without authorization”. The book required review based on the legal stipulations of Bolton’s employment and termination, but the letter in and of itself is not a threat, per say. However, a review of this administration’s behavior towards those who speak out against it is certainly a concern.
Another Twitter (Trump) Smear Campaign
Trump also took to Twitter to trash-talk Bolton, implying that Bolton is a liar, had to beg for his job because he could not get another one, and was fired because “if [Trump] listened to him, [the U.S.] would be in World War Six by now”. Bolton is a controversial figure, but that is beside the point.
The President undertakes numerous smear campaigns, verbally and on Twitter, and uses threats to undermine his political and moral opponents on many occasions. Trump is Tweeting about Bolton to malign him, and this behavior fits right in to the other smears seen when people speak out against Trump. The White House tells its staff to ignore subpoenas, the President verbally and through Twitter threatens political opponents when they reveal information, tries to silence reporters in the White House pool by not holding daily briefings and using near baseless legal action to silence them, refuses to work with a Democratically controlled Congress, and the President continues to blather falsehoods and lies almost every time he speaks.
Whether it be Anonymous, Marie Yovanovitch, Alexander Vindman, or John Bolton, there is a pattern of behavior that is acutely problematic from the White House, supporters, and the President. The President not only Tweeted threats to Yovanovitch, but in a recently released a series of texts, it seems that his disdain for her went much deeper than Tweets, including plausible surveillance and a fervent desire to want her out of Ukraine and her job as soon as possible. She was the only person standing in the way of what Trump wanted to do in Ukraine. He also unleashed threats to Anonymous, calling them a “coward”, threatens to smear Vindman, a Purple Heart recipient, and now he Tweets threats towards John Bolton. Trump also threatened to issue an executive order to silence Bolton and prevent him from testifying to the Senate, which many moderate Republicans will consider allowing, if necessary. All these threats point to a pattern of attempts to silence opponents.
What Makes Trump Different?
No matter the characters of past Presidents, this level of smear campaigns and silencing attempts in such an overt way were never the norm, never done in such a manner by any past Presidents. Of course, with the advent of social media, the spread of threats and hate is easy, but easy access does not justify the behavior. This is not the kind of behavior expected from the global representative of the U.S., a country that prides itself on everything that is not threats and hate, even when it does not uphold those values. To see it so overtly, for the first time for many U.S. citizens, is scary. It is the type of overt threats and hate expected to happen in other places around the world; obviously, those expectations often have their basis in xenophobia and racism. One looks at the global news section and sees these stories, rarely in the past did any U.S. citizens turn to the local news and see their President threatening opponents in such an overt way — through social media and the internet as a whole.
Obviously, the country went through some tumultuous times in the past: The Civil Rights movements, the anti-War protests during the Vietnam war, and the immediate aftermath of 9/11. These eras exposed violent attacks by the government on people who did not deserve it, often people of color. As recently as the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, the U.S. government used tear gas on its own people who protested peacefully. What makes the Trump era different, for many, is that there is no way to turn off the T.V. or radio and pretend this is not happening when it is on every phone as well.
For example, the FBI made attempts at a smear campaign against Martin Luther King, which was largely unsuccessful because Rev. Dr. King could easily strike back on his own and defend himself in the media. Back then, everyone had equal access to media (largely T.V., radio, and newspapers) because of the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine, implemented in 1949 and eliminated in 1987, which required that both sides of an issue receive equal coverage.
Now, because of the one-sided coverage of Trump — especially by outlets like Fox News — and the scale of Trump’s base, he is able to reach and access more people than Anonymous, Yovanovich, Vindman, and Bolton combined. Bolton left Fox News as a contributor in 2018 to work for the Trump administration. Social media gives the White House and this President more power to send threats and hate, on a national and global scale, than any administration had before and this President uses and abuses that power.
The Threat To Democracy
Their canny use of the technology is admirable, it spreads fear of dissent amongst those who might have the power to do so at any time. This is getting dangerous, not only because of the obvious comparisons to many authoritarian regimes (comparison, not similarity), but for what it could do to the project of democracy.
Democracy for all thrives on dissent, not conformity. Democracy for all thrives on the sharing of information, not the attempt to suppress it. Democracy for all relies on the ability to hold people and companies accountable, not an inability to check and balance. Democracy for all relies on cooperation, not an inability to share power, information, money, etc. Democracy for all relies on inclusion, not exclusion. Ultimately, not only is the White House testing the limits of the project of democracy, but it does not understand democracy fundamentally. You have to let crisis play out, you have to let everyone speak about it, no matter how long that takes, then you have to let an objective panel deliberate about said crisis and decide what to do or who is at fault, and you have to let them be objective in seeking the truth: no name-calling, no threats, and no obstruction. That is the only way democracy can continue to work.