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Weathering the stormy political climate: It might not be as bad as it looks

October 20, 2017

Robert Deitz

No matter your political perspective, the first nine months of the Trump administration have been one of fast-moving turmoil. But has this period been dangerous, as some suggest?

George Mason University professor Robert Deitz, who was general counsel at the National Security Agency from 1998 to 2006 and then senior councilor to the director of the CIA until 2009, believes things at the upper levels of the federal government are not as bad as they seem.

Deitz, who teaches public policy at Mason’s Schar School of Policy and Government, has seen much of it before.

“Things seem grim, but the framers of the Constitution did a really good job with the separation of powers,” he said. “It goes back to what John Locke said, ‘Trust institutions, not people.’ In fact, I think we’re seeing examples of things self-righting.”

For example:

* Executive orders, which offer the White House immediate policy response, Deitz said, can be undone. “And there’s no sign the federal judiciary is bending to Trump’s will,” he said.

* For all the “scorn, anger and angst” of the last nine months, Deitz said he cannot think of one legislative success from the White House besides the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court.

* The press, despite threats from the White House, is energized and engaging in deep investigative journalism, he said.

* The possible negative results of the Robert Mueller investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election “could result in a 2018 blood bath for the Republicans,” who are beginning to push back against some unpopular policy proposals.

* Regarding the Russia investigation, Deitz said he was astonished to learn the White House was studying the limits of presidential pardons. “Pardons are not for peccadillos, they’re for felonies. When White House lawyers are looking into pardons, that’s an indication they perceive trouble,” he said.

* As for the rhetoric with North Korea about nuclear annihilation, Deitz said, “there is adult supervision when it comes to war.” When Richard Nixon was rattled during the Watergate investigation while waging war in Vietnam, he was unaware Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird was modifying his military commands, Deitz said.

Robert Deitz can be reached at 703-993-3480 or rdeitz@gmu.edu.

For more information, contact Buzz McClain at 703-727-0230 or bmcclai2@gmu.edu.

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George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 36,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility.