Criticism goes with the territory for anybody serving in high office.
INCIDENTS THIS WEEK - none of it good - provide even more insight into the chaotic workings of the Trump White House.
Most of the headlines followed excerpts from a new book quoting insiders from the Trump administration, notably former top campaign official and chief policy strategist Steve Bannon. He is quoted as calling a meeting "treasonous" and "unpatriotic" between Donald Trump Jr., Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, other top campaign officials and a Russian attorney and various Russian representatives. Bannon suggested the real trail to follow in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation likely involves money laundering. Other White House insiders quoted in the book talked about President Trump's short attention span, unwillingness to read and suggested aides have to deal with him like a child.
TRUMP THEN SENT his lawyers after the book's author, Michael Wolff, the book's publishing house, and Bannon. The lawyers claimed Bannon violated non-disclosure and non-disparagement provisions from his employment agreement with Trump, and ordered him to cease and desist commenting about the president. The lawyers threatened action against Wolff and his publisher unless they agree to stop publication and distribution of the book.
First, whether the revelations of the book are true or false or exaggerated is beyond our knowledge. Obviously, the author and publisher want to sell products and make money. It's a lot harder to see how Bannon benefits from running his mouth. By now, though, there is a pattern that suggests conditions inside the White House are, at best, unusual. Whether it's as bad, however, as this suggests is mostly unknowable for us common folks out here in America.
So we will restrict our criticism to Trump's efforts to quash the book's publication and distribution. That, in our view, flies in the face not only of the First Amendment, but also the practicalities and realities of high office.
THE RIGHT TO speak out and publish is embedded as the very First Amendment the nation's Founders placed in the U.S. Constitution. Trying to intimidate those involved with a critical book goes against the American grain. Long legal practice and precedent establish that individuals in high office are fair game for comment and criticism.
A former president, Harry Truman, much maligned during his time in office but later admired as an honorable and tenacious leader, got it about right when he said, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen."
Every president takes hits, some fair and a lot unfair. Trump's sensitivies and penchant for never letting a critical comment go unanswered - or, usually, answered and escalated - serves neither his office nor his country well.
He and his lawyers might also remember this. If they decide to go into court, the other side gets its shot at discovery, depositions and questioning individuals under oath.
A SECOND DEVELOPMENT, unfortunately overshadowed by the dust-up with the book, is more substantive. Quietly, the White House ordered the disbanding of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. That's the organization President Trump established shortly after taking office, with the mandate to find what he called millions of fraudulent votes.
Readers may remember Trump chafed over Hillary Clinton beating him in the popular vote by more than three million ballots nationwide, while he was elected by capturing the majority of the Electoral College. On several occasions after the November 2016 election Trump publicly claimed he really won the popular vote, and only was behind because millions of illegal votes had been cast. Then, after taking office, he named a commission to find the fraud.
Now, nearly a year later, no fraud has been found and the commission is gone. Not one to accept lack of factual evidence as proof, though, the Trump administration issued a statement still claiming there is "substantial evidence of voter fraud" and blaming states for failing to stamp it out. Of course, none of that substantial evidence was produced.
The vote-fraud claim has taken on a life of its own, and has been used to enact all sorts of legislation coast-to-coast making it harder to cast a ballot. Yet study after study, looking for real evidence, finds nothing more than a few isolated instances nationwide. Time to move on to encourage, not discourage, voters.