“Resistance is futile,” President Trump said the other day, apparently referring to the various investigations and letters of inquiry the nation’s intelligence community is pursuing into Russia’s election meddling and into any connections it may have had with his campaign. The President is right that nobody can go around calling the FBI and the Department of Justice a bunch of “crooked cocksuckers.” They work for the American people.
His comments were intended as a reminder to Republicans that the party’s unpopularity makes it all the more important for them to stick together on issues of principle, and to let the probes unfold naturally and silently. But the same day the President was talking up resistance, he was firing a staffer and consulting his lawyers about what happens next. Jeff Sessions is widely believed to have accepted his resignation. The New York Times reported on Friday that officials had begun the process of replacing him, perhaps with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Trump’s White House staff is thin, consisting of Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon. He has two others with White House experience. He can be cruel to those who have served him before, such as Hope Hicks, who recently departed as communications director.
But is the Attorney General really going to resign? Whatever the President may think, the Attorney General has served at his pleasure for five years. He is held in the highest regard by his staff. He is beloved by much of the country and even the Republican Party. His career has been active and distinguished, representing Republican ideals of states’ rights, and statesmanship in opposition to Clinton. Trump will not want to wind him up with this resignation, because the Attorney General is the chief law enforcement officer of the land, meaning that he is the second-highest ranking official in the country, and an official under investigation himself. And he is undoubtedly careful not to hurt his own interests.
There are precedents for Trump’s behavior. There is nothing wrong with loyalty to a long-term career in public service that you inherit or start afresh, if you want to be president. Maybe it is better if Trump serves in politics for a while. But it is sometimes better for the system when the country has two strong political parties in opposition, sparring against one another, keeping power in check.
It is the very oppositions of the parties that are possible, even consequential, to challenge powerful interests or the rulers. The interdependence of the country’s political factions that our forefathers envisioned in the Declaration of Independence is in fact an uncomfortable reality, and it matters.
The threat to balance in our society, to making it impossible for one party to push its own agenda or to hold another to the standard of fairness, is posed by the President. He is using the threat of a long-term Senate vacancy to speed up the process of firing his own attorney general, or whatever law enforcement official he is displeased with. He seems to be stirring up the pot, and making it unwise for anyone else to try to calm the public before the seat is filled.
The Republicans, or one-third of them anyway, have their faults. But they do have a bill of principles that is important. The President is not alone in presenting them as irritants. Even the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, has said he would prefer that Trump simply nominate someone for the Justice Department seat.
Trump’s nominations for Supreme Court and for lower federal courts have been far too many and too strange. As there is no obvious line-up in the new Congress, the President has weighed in on contentious issues from his immediate polling base. Now, he has elevated Donald Trump Jr. to the national stage — as if he was an insider and a boy scout, and not a vice-president and son of the President himself.