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Witcover: Trump again insults judiciary in unhinged Thanksgiving tirade

Of the many obscenities President Donald Trump has uttered on television, none compares with his hour-long Thanksgiving Day telephone conversation with his military leaders. He arrogantly used it to peddle his personal political agenda, including his latest attack on the nation's judiciary.

In lieu of thanking the troops in person for their service, he phoned it in from Mar-a-Lago, his mansion in Florida. He took the occasion to politicize the revered holiday. Asked what he was most thankful for, he said: “I made a tremendous difference in our country.”

Mr. Trump shamelessly put the commanders on the spot with questions about military readiness designed to reflect on his own claims of unmatched achievement. Then he outdid himself by continuing his assault on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, for which he was recently rebuffed by none other than Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, a Republican nominee.

After Mr. Trump identified one of the high court’s members as “an Obama judge,” Mr. Roberts declared there were no Democratic or Republican judges, only jurists committed to the rule of law. The president, true to form, took him on as part of his celebratory call to the military, which quickly turned into a self-serving pitch to a captive audience of uniformed subordinates by the commander-in-chief.

While Mr. Trump was at it, he reiterated his defense of Saudi Arabia’s mob-like murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi on grounds of “putting America first.” Doing so may be the most contemptible way he has yet demeaned his own country's moral stature.

The Declaration of Independence cites our “inalienable rights to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness,” but the president crassly dismissed those words for the sake of his one true love — the pursuit of money.

“For me, it's all about America first,” he told reporters before boarding Air Force One for Mar-a-Lago and his Thanksgiving holiday. "We're not going to give up hundreds of millions of dollars in order to let Russia, China and everybody else have them."

Mr. Trump insisted that the Saudi regime had cooperated with keeping oil prices down, preventing world oil from going “through the roof.” He spoke of the alleged profits he says will accrue to the United States in arms sales to the dictatorial Saudi regime, if we turn our eyes from the outrageous gangster-like killing of the journalist who was a resident of Virginia at the time of his death.

Mr. Trump took note that the Saudi-born Khashoggi was not an American citizen — which apparently in Mr. Trump'’ mind is another valid reason to accept the word of King Salman and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, that they had nothing to do with the murder.

America’s intelligence community has determined otherwise, and Mr. Trump has declined to listen to an audio description of the Saudi assassination, deeming it too much for his sensitive ears. Of the crown prince's involvement, the president says, “maybe he did and maybe he didn’t” order the murder.

In any event, Mr. Trump has said, “I'm not going to destroy the world economy” or the American economic interests in the Middle East over the horrible affair. Never mind, apparently, the damage that his dismissive attitude is guaranteed to inflict on America's record and reputation as a bulwark in defense of human rights the world over.

A notable political upshot of the Thanksgiving weekend is the fact that this authoritarian president has now managed to antagonize the two other constitutional branches of the American democracy.

The legislative branch has just been politically weaponized with the midterm congressional election results that give Mr. Trump’s opposition party majority control of the House, with broad subpoena powers to investigate the various personal and official allegations against him.

Now, with his latest war on the judicial branch, provoking the unprecedented response of Chief Justice Roberts, Mr. Trump is doubly confronted with the concept of a government of co-equal branches.

On the basic question of whether any president is above the law, Mr. Trump finds himself more than ever on the losing side, with his own Justice Department as well as Congress and a defensive judiciary poised to educate him in his arrogance and abysmal ignorance.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is

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