Donald Trump is no tyrant-in-waiting regardless of how much the left tries to say otherwise. But the president's predilection for strong-men and their tactics demand rebuke from all members of Congress, including Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst.
Trump's administration has considered rollbacks of libel laws in order to hobble the media with spurious lawsuits, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus admitted.
"I think it’s something that we’ve looked at, and how that gets executed or whether that goes anywhere is a different story,” he said Sunday during an appearance on ABC's "The Week."
It's unclear how such an assault on the First Amendment would actually work. Libel laws are, by and large, state-level matters, a fact Trump apparently didn't realize during the campaign.
A few Republican lawmakers blasted Priebus for even going there.
"White House has no power to change the #1stAmendment, and we Americans will fight any effort to abridge the freedom of speech or the press," tweeted Rep. Justin Amash, R-Michigan.
But, like with so many abnormalities from this White House, most Republicans either remained silent or downplayed the severity of such a message coming from the White House.
Even Nixon never called the press the "enemy of the American people." Trump, yet again, railed against the media Saturday night, as the Beltway press corps held its annually absurd White House Correspondent's Dinner.
Trump has every right to savage the press thanks to that First Amendment, which irks him so. But Trump's attacks on the media capstoned a week where he flaunted increasing hostility to anyone who challenged his authority and an unwillingness to recognize that the system is built upon antagonistic relationships.
He mentioned breaking up the 9th Circuit, which has struck down his most contentious executive orders. He threatened congressional Republicans who don't fall in line on the health care package. He blasted the Senate's 60-vote rule. He kept signing executive orders at a never-before-seen pace. His war on facts simply won't cease.
In a few short days, Trump displayed utter contempt for the very checks on power that differentiate president from monarch.
Much was made of last month's comments by Ernst, in which she cautiously expressed discomfort with Trump's near weekly retreats to Mar-a-Lago. That's a start, I suppose, especially considering Trump's dismal approval ratings. But, still, Ernst makes no mention of the obvious pay-to-play scheme Mar-a-Lago is running. Nor did she broach any of the broader ethical questions about the business dealings of Trump and his children-turned-advisers.
Grassley, too, hasn't said too much, though he kept Trump at a distance during the campaign, unlike Ernst. Last week, for example, Grassley's staff twisted to say something positive about Trump's tax plan while not expressing actual support. At least Trump started "the conversation" about tax reform, the release said. Hardly full-throated support.
Priebus' flippant reference to gutting free speech came just a day after Trump shocked even his own staff and State Department by holding a call with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, a man who brags about extra-judicial killings of suspected criminals. Trump invited the strongman to the White House during the call. Remember, Trump is the same guy who swooned over Russia's Vladimir Putin throughout the campaign.
Adding insult to injury, Trump on Friday became the first sitting president in three decades to address the National Rifle Association's annual meeting. He ticked all the boxes, pledging to tear down gun restrictions wherever he can. But Trump's rhetoric in the past has even surpassed the uncompromising NRA following last year's shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando.
The takeaway is simple: The Second Amendment is sacrosanct. The First Amendment and any limits to presidential power are expendable annoyances.
In the past few days, Trump has grown increasingly hostile to the most fundamental limitations on his power, Congress and the courts included. And, yet again, he's cozying up to a murderous thug.
At what point do Grassley and Ernst start pushing back?
Jon Alexander is editorial page editor at the Quad-City Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org