Pay attention: Trump's twitter tantrum exposes ominous threat to separation of powers


While all of Donald Trump’s attempts to belittle and delegitimize the judiciary have exposed his disrespect for our Constitution and rule of law, Trump’s tweet calling on Americans to "blame" the federal judge who suspended his Muslim ban "if something bad happens" caused many observers to question whether this time his rhetoric constituted a thinly-veiled threat.

During his weekend away at his Florida Mar-A-Lago estate, Donald Trump renewed his attacks on federal court Judge James L. Robart, who had recently suspended enforcement of Trump's immigration ban:

Coming on the heels of the White House having deleted the Judicial Branch subpage from the White House website (it was returned after outcry) and Trump’s attack on Judge Robart (who was appointed by President George W. Bush) as a "so-called judge," this most recent statement appeared to be an escalation of his efforts to diminish the authority of the judicial system in the eyes of American citizens.


Historically, leaders with authoritarian designs have undermined any institutions that present checks on their power, including judicial and legislative bodies and the media. Such leaders have often engaged in delegitimizing rhetoric in advance of formally eliminating such entities, generally using the justification of national security to do so.

Accordingly, many observers, including myself, interpreted Trump's phrasing as demonstration of Trump’s intent to attack the system of checks and balances and to potentially move the nation toward an authoritarian form of governance:

Former CIA spokesman and Department of Defense press secretary, George Little:

Attorney formerly with the National Security Agency, Susan Hennessey:

Conservative columnist and former National Security Agency analyst, John Schindler:

Conservative author and Naval War College Professor, Tom Nichols:

Former Obama speech-writers, Jon Lovett and Jon Favreau:

Washington Post journalist, Greg Sargent:

National reporter for the Los Angeles Times, Matt Pearce:

Whether we choose to take Trump seriously and literally in this particular tweet, his ongoing derogatory rhetoric about federal jurists manifests a chilling disregard for our system of checks and balances. At a minimum, between governing by executive order and delivering despotic pronouncements, Trump seems determined to push the limits of separation of powers in an effort to expand his own.