It is time to be "sober, calm and paying attention."

Those words -- from Rachel Maddow, the MSNBC television host who right-wing Republicans love to hate -- are about as insightful as anything I’ve read or heard lately.

Nothing is certain, but it feels like we are moving invariably closer to a constitutional crisis. We’re not there yet. There are miles to go, and maybe at some point between now and a showdown that could involve all three branches of the United States federal government, Donald Trump will back off and let America’s justice system run its course. But I doubt it.

Trump's rhetoric, always inflammatory, escalated over the past week, after his attorney's home, office and hotel room were raided by officers acting on a warrant obtained by U.S. prosecutors in New York. The result is that we seem to have a president who appears to be seriously considering taking action to slow down or outright obstruct federal investigations.

Trump’s decision to order missile strikes on Syria late Friday may temporarily divert attention away from the scandals surrounding his administration. It won’t, however, make these inquiries go away, nor change the fact that he has repeatedly made false accusations against investigators.

The president has tried his best to assassinate the character of special counsel Robert Mueller, who has had an exemplary career in public service, and before that was honored for heroism in Vietnam. So, too, Trump has maligned the reputation of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the man who appointed Mueller. Both Rosenstein and Mueller are Republicans who have done their jobs, despite thundering criticism from the president who, judging by his actions, has something to hide.

Mueller, of course, is leading a legitimate investigation into whether Trump's campaign colluded with Russians who interfered in our 2016 elections, and whether the president and others have attempted to obstruct justice in the aftermath. Aside from that, federal investigators in New York, at least, are looking into whether campaign funds were used to pay off and silence a porn star who says she had a sexual affair with Trump.

In the past, checks and balances from American institutions that have tended to protect our democracy from wayward elected officials -- even at the highest level. Richard Nixon, facing impeachment proceedings in 1974, resigned less than three weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered him to release Oval Office tape recordings related to the Watergate scandal.

The court's landmark ruling came almost nine months after the "Saturday night massacre," in which Nixon forced the resignations of Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus when they refused to fire the man heading the Watergate investigation, Archibald Cox. Nixon finally got Solicitor General Robert Bork to fire Cox. But Leon Jaworski, the man who replaced Cox, aggressively continued the investigation that ultimately led to Nixon's demise.

Are we headed for a similar "massacre" at the Justice Department? Trump's accusations against the department, the FBI and the special counsel's office seem to become more unhinged by the day.

No matter Nixon's many faults, he still cared more about the nation than Trump. And importantly, it was congressional Republicans who convinced Nixon to resign rather than face almost certain impeachment. Trump is no Nixon, and the Republicans in Congress now have little in common with their 1974 counterparts when it comes to putting their country ahead of their party.

I must mention that I find no joy in constantly venting about this president. I would much rather write about his attempts to bring us together, to heal deep divisions in this country. But that is a road simply not taken by Donald Trump. He has chosen, instead, to lie, to engage in character assassination, to try to intimidate investigators, and to ruthlessly undermine the FBI and the Justice Department. He has taken the lowest of roads, and the collateral damage is piling up.

 

Tuscaloosa resident Mark Mayfield is a former editor-in-chief of House Beautiful and Traditional Home magazines, and was a reporter for USA Today for 10 years. Readers can email him at markmayfield2017@gmail.com.