Donald Trump's unorthodox campaign and unexpected victory have produced a culture of mistrust permeating our politics and threatening to undermine the rule of law. That's not healthy, whatever you think of Trump or his political opponents.
The partisan mistrust is evident in Senate Democrats' filibuster of the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch which, at this writing, seems sure to result in an end to such filibusters, to at least the short-term detriment of the Democratic party. Apparently, pressure from the party's base that has pushed reluctant senators into this self-defeating course.
Mistrust is also apparent in the decisions of federal judges overturning Trump's travel ban executive orders. In two cases judges made it clear that they would uphold similar orders issued by any other president, but not by one who had called, at one point in his campaign for a "Muslim ban," even though he withdrew that proposal in favor of "extreme vetting" months before his election. This despite the fact that neither the Constitution nor laws passed by Congress confers rights on foreigners not in the United States against religious discrimination.
Policy arguments can be made against a Muslim ban and against Trump's much more limited executive orders. The first is probably impossible to enforce and may increase resentment of the United States among the world's billion-plus Muslims. But ordinarily, judges don't determine policy and treat litigants impartially. It's called the rule of law.
Then there's the belief of many Democrats, persistent despite a lack of any hard evidence, that Trump and his campaign colluded with Vladimir Putin's Russia and "hacked the campaign." The implication is that a Trump-Putin conspiracy stole the election and that Trump is not a legitimate president. Some leftist bloggers and Democratic voters believe this will soon lead to Trump's impeachment and removal and, somehow, the installation of Hillary Clinton.
Trump's praise of Putin and bizarre refusal to criticize him during the campaign provided a basis for suspicion. So did the client lists of some Trump temporary campaign aides. This was no secret to voters: Hillary Clinton raised these issues in the second and third presidential debates last fall.
This may amount to political malpractice, but not to collusion. Neither did the contacts of national security adviser Michael Flynn with the Russian ambassador, the ones which got him fired after he lied about them to Vice President Mike Pence.
Flynn's contact was apparently picked up by legal surveillance of the Russian ambassador, and his name was "incidentally collected" and then "unmasked" — i.e., revealed — by intelligence personnel on their own initiative or in response to a request from an Obama national security official. "Unmasking" is unusual and done ordinarily only for an intelligence reason.
Bloomberg News's Eli Lake reported April 3 that President Barack Obama's national security adviser Susan Rice requested the "unmasking" of numerous U.S. persons "on dozens of occasions." On MSNBC she admitted that, by denied doing so "for any political purposes" or denied leaking any information. But an Obama administration order entered in January making such information available to 16 intelligence agencies enabled many others to do so.
Was the Obama administration using intelligence surveillance information for political reasons? It certainly looks like it. Rice's credibility is less than sterling: she went on five Sunday shows in September 2012 to claim the Benghazi attacks were sparked by an anti-Muslim video, and in June 2014 said deserter Bowe Bergdahl served "with honor and distinction." Obama's desire to name her secretary of state was scuttled in December 2012 by objections from multiple quarters.
Neither the FBI nor Intelligence Committees' investigations have produced evidence of Trump team collusion with Russia. But there's strong evidence the Obama administration did what Democratic Senator Ron Wyden has warned against: use intelligence surveillance to discredit political opponents.
In office, Trump has not pursued Russia-friendly policies, as Hillary Clinton warned he might and as Obama officials may have feared. His relevant appointees—Rex Tillerson, James Mattis, H.R. McMaster, National Security Council Russia specialist Fiona Hill—have taken a tough line on Russia and Putin. Democrats' mistrust has, at least so far, proved unjustified. He has behaved more like a conventional Republican than some reincarnation of Hitler or Mussolini.
Mistrust that leads to abandonment of the rule of law and misuse of intelligence information is corrosive and invites retaliation in kind. Maybe it's time to focus on what the legitimately elected president is doing rather than his more outlandish campaign rhetoric.