While his Republican colleagues on Capitol Hill finally released their secret health care bill on Thursday morning, the Vermont senator was across town, delivering a remarkable speech about the need to “preserve American democracy and oppose the current drift toward authoritarianism that I believe President Trump represents.”
Speaking at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a foreign policy think tank in D.C., Sanders listed the ways Trump is undermining vital American institutions: trying to delegitimize the electoral system by lying about millions of illegal votes, undermining the independent judiciary by slamming “so-called judges,” and engaging in “unprecedented and vicious attacks on the media.” Trump’s cries of “fake news,” he argued, are an attempt to condition Americans to disbelieve all information from the press. He reminded his audience of what Republican Representative Lamar Smith said earlier this year: “Better to get your news directly from the president. In fact, it might be the only way to get the unvarnished truth.”
Sanders noted the irony here: “There is no politician that I know—and certainly no president in the history of our country—who has told as many outrageous and blatant lies as Donald Trump has.” But thanks to the power of partisanship, much of the country believes a leader with authoritarian tendencies. “All of these tendencies are even more concerning when understood in the light of Trump’s consistent admiration for authoritarian leaders all over the world,” Sanders said. “I find it strange that we have a president who seems to be more comfortable with autocrats and authoritarian leaders than with leaders of democratic nations. How does it happen that we have a president who attacks everyone—Democrats, Republicans, business leaders, beauty queens, journalists, movie stars—yet at the same time has nothing but nice things to say about Russian President Vladimir Putin and other authoritarian leaders?”
If American politics were rational, every Republican on Capitol Hill would express the same concern. Almost none do—because they need his signature in order to deprive millions of poor Americans of health insurance and hand a massive tax cut to the rich.