Sources

Crisis Or Coup? Trump Presidency At Risk From Within

Trump and top members of his Administration in May
Trump and top members of his Administration in May
Timothy L. O'Brien*

NEW YORK — The New York Times published an extraordinary column this afternoon by an anonymous contributor identified as a "senior official in the Trump administration whose identity is known to us and whose job would be jeopardized by its disclosure." (In a tweet, and perhaps inadvertently, the Times also described its op-ed columnist as a man.)

It's readily apparent why the writer's job would be threatened. His column describes a White House mired in subterfuge and scheming because President Donald Trump isn't able or fit to carry out his duties. "The root of the problem is the president's amorality," the columnist observes. "Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making."

Confronted with that reality, Trump's own White House staff has apparently gone rogue. "Many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations," notes the columnist. "We believe our first duty is to this country, and the president continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic."

The writer said he shares Trump's goals of building a strong military, cutting taxes and doing away with federal regulations — successes he says Team Trump has been able to pull off despite the president's dangerous ineptitude. To achieve their goals, they work around Trump and walk back — or simply thwart — "Trump's more misguided impulses until he is out of office."

"Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president," the writer adds. "But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis. So we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until — one way or another — it's over."

There is some good intent here. A group of people is trying to adhere to principle and make the executive branch function in a mature and responsible way — because Trump, the man elected to do just that, can't. They are so concerned about things going haywire that they ponder making use of an amendment to the Constitution that allows for replacing the president when he or she is "unable to discharge the powers and duties' of the office.

Unless Vice President Mike Pence is involved with that decision, however, it's not up to White House officials to "invoke" the 25th Amendment by themselves. The amendment requires vice-presidential participation if it is invoked within the White House. And if Pence is involved with the group the Times columnist describes, well, the plot thickens. But all of that is an argument for another day.

The U.S. government is not supposed to function this way.

What seems more pointed to me is that the columnist says his troupe sought to avert a constitutional crisis. Think about that: White House officials were so concerned about Trump's lack of fitness that they considered dire measures, which they then dismissed to avoid a crisis. So these same unelected and unknown officials, all appointed by a president they see as unfit, are now running the country without oversight and accountability? If that's not a crisis, what is?

The U.S. government is not supposed to function this way. A vibrant democracy rides on the back of voting, transparency and the rule of law. When unelected officials act unilaterally and in secrecy because they work for an inept executive who doesn't respect the law, then you have yourself a crisis. (Trump, always a model of probity, zipped out a video on Twitter Wednesday evening slagging the Times as "gutless' for publishing the anonymous column.)

Similar things have happened before. In 1919, for example, President Woodrow Wilson became paralyzed and partially blind following a stroke. Wilson's doctor and his wife, Edith, covered up the president's condition and Edith administered his executive powers while keeping Wilson's cabinet and the Congress ill-informed and at a distance. Edith continued her stealth presidency until Wilson's term ended in 1921.

It wasn't until the 25th Amendment was passed in 1967, 48 years after Wilson's stroke and four years after John F. Kennedy's assassination, that a clear procedure for replacing an incapacitated or dead president was put into place.

Trump, of course, is neither incapacitated nor dead. He is merely tragicomically out of his depth (as Bob Woodward's upcoming book, and Trump's own history, have substantiated).

As Woodward's reporting makes clear, some White House officials, like Defense Secretary James Mattis, have occasionally been able to ward off some of Trump's most perilous instincts. But Mattis, and the Times"s anonymous columnist, haven't warded off a crisis. They're living in one.


*O'Brien is the executive editor of Bloomberg Opinion. He has been an editor and writer for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, HuffPost and Talk magazine. His books include "TrumpNation: The Art of Being The Donald."

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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