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Analysis and perspective about what's happening in the political realm.

American Support For Authoritarian Rule Has Dropped For The First Time In 23 Years

For a country that prides itself on democracy, the US has plenty of citizens who think there might be better forms of government. According to a March 13 poll from the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group, one in four Americans think it would be good to have a “strong leader” who does not have to bother with Congress and elections.

While that may seem like a lot, this is actually a drop from previous years. And it is the first time since 1995 that support for “strong leaders” in the US has actually fallen overall.

Nearly 80% of the study’s 5,000 respondents supported democracy overall.

The authors of the survey think the decline of support in strong leadership may be related to the presidency of Donald Trump, and specifically to having had a taste of what a strong leader who doesn’t much listen to Congress could look like.

Support for strong leaders and authoritarianism was stronger among people who didn’t vote in the latest elections. It was strongest among the so-called “missing Obama millions,” or the people who voted for Barack Obama in 2102 and then changed sides to support Trump in 2016.

Political identities that...

How Did Rex Tillerson Manage to Keep His Job?

Policy differences with your boss, especially if he is the president, are one thing; reportedly calling him a “moron” and declining to say whether he represents American values are quite another. And yet a little more than a year after Rex Tillerson was sworn in as the U.S. secretary of state, and amid umpteen stories of his imminent departure from that position, including in The Atlantic, he’s still in his job while high-profile Trump loyalists such as Hope Hicks are out.

Tillerson’s tenure is a testament not only to his focus on his job, at the expense of overlooking the machinations that dominate Washington, but also to Trump’s penchant for political drama—a fondness the president acknowledged Tuesday.  

“I like conflict. I like having two people with different points of view, and I certainly have that,” Trump said at a news conference with the Swedish prime minister when he was asked about potential staffing changes at the White House. “And then I make a decision. But I like watching it, I like seeing it, and I think it’s the best way to go. I like different points of view.”

Hours later, the White House announced...

Will the Last Person to Leave the West Wing Please Turn Out the Lights?

It’s looking like it might be spring-cleaning season at the White House.

Not only did Communications Director Hope Hicks announce her departure on Wednesday, ending her run as President Trump’s longest-tenured staffer, but a series of reports have suggested a number of other top-ranking officials might be clearing out their offices and desks soon. Those rumored to be considering exits include Jared Kushner, John Kelly, H.R. McMaster, Gary Cohn, and Jeff Sessions. 

One could be forgiven for treating these reports with some skepticism. Every one of them has been the subject of similar speculation in the past—which could indicate just how long the final departure has been coming, or could suggest the reports not be taken seriously. Yet there are also plenty of reasons why officials might be interested in leaving, many of them interwoven. It is common for administrations to see turnover in their second year. But there are also Trump-specific circumstances: It’s clear that working for this president is particularly trying; there remain serious disagreements about policy; and special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation haunts the White House.

At the top of the card is Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior...

Trump Thought the Rules Didn’t Apply—and Now He’s Paying the Price

Soon after Donald Trump became president, he began running into a whole set of rules about how government works, like demands that he divest assets or put them in a blind trust, and rules about whether he could hire family members for top jobs. For Trump, who had just won election while disregarding most of the rules of political campaigning, these rules seemed antiquated at best and punitive at worst.

The Trump team treated these rules and norms as artifacts of a hidebound and ineffective Washington, obstacles that had kept qualified, inventive people from the business sector out of public service on mere technicalities. The president-elect also clearly viewed the hue and cry of ethics experts—from Norm Eisen and Richard Painter to Walter Shaub—as efforts to delegitimize his presidency.

What the last few weeks, and especially the last few days, have brought home is that the rules exist in part to protect the people who are supposed to follow them. Just like your elementary-school teacher told you not to run in the hallways not because she was a martinet but because you’re liable to trip and hurt yourself, ethics rules and norms can help an administration protect...

It's Getting Harder to Prosecute Politicians For Corruption

The high-profile corruption case against New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez was recently dropped by federal prosecutors after a five-year investigation into gifts and campaign contributions given to the senator by a friend who wanted political help.

The trial had ended in a hung jury. Prosecutors then decided they did not have enough evidence to prove corruption and decided not to try Menendez again.

That decision had its roots in another failed corruption case against a prominent politician, former Virginia Republican Governor Bob McDonnell – a case whose resolution before the U.S. Supreme Court has made it manifestly more difficult for prosecutors to prove political corruption.

The Supreme Court described the events that sparked McDonnell’s 2014 bribery prosecution as “distasteful,” comprising “tawdry tales of Ferraris, Rolexes, and ball gowns.”

Nevertheless, the justices struck down McDonnell’s convictions in a lower court for accepting over US$175,000 in gifts from a businessman who wanted help from the state. They unanimously found that the Justice Department had overreached in prosecuting him.

How could actions that look so corrupt not be a crime?

The answer lies with the Supreme Court’s increasingly narrow definition of public corruption, including the crimes of bribery...