President Donald Trump habitually accuses all manner of American institutions of acting in bad faith. The motive is usually clear — to defend against attacks on his own performance, or "counterpunch," as his aides like to put it.
A fresh example arose after the stock market plunged, following hints of a coming recession. “‘The Fed has got to do something!’” he tweeted. “‘The Fed is the Central Bank of the United States, not the Central Bank of the World’…. The Federal Reserve acted far too quickly, and now is very, very late."
Attacking the Fed resounds with a rote narrative of unelected power subverting American interests or, at least, Trump's interests. From the start he has denigrated the intelligence agencies, which did arouse plenty of suspicion before he came along. Before taking office Trump compared the CIA's actions to something from Nazi Germany. Only recently, well into his third year in office, he said U.S. spy agencies "run amok."
Any reputational damage to those targets, however, might be confined to political audiences in which the president has credibility, namely his core supporters. But the stain does worry institutional players. Chief Justice John Roberts diplomatically issued a rare statement that the Trump-attacked judiciary has "an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them.”
Trump insisted the FBI's probe of his campaign was a "hoax" despite multiple criminal cases that resulted. This raises the question of how and where the agency's public image has been tarnished. More likely, it operates as before, with a presidential appointee in charge, and no signs of a planned reform under way.
Recently some grumbling leaked from the ranks when the president retweeted a crackpot comment about the death in custody of pedophile Jeffrey Epstein while the case is under investigation.
While famously complaining about alleged "fake news" from the so-called Fourth Estate, Trump has cast even more serious doubt on the nation's very ability to conduct fair elections.
Evidence of his claim that massive fraud somehow swung millions of votes to his opponent never turned up. Trump still echoes GOP calls for strict "voter ID" laws. But there's also no evidence that his throwing mud at a system run state by state has changed it in any real way or discouraged partisans on either side.
Trump's rhetoric also takes a broad institutional brush to detractors in the Democratic Party, which remains the larger of the two major parties. “A vote for any Democrat in 2020 is a vote for the rise of radical socialism and the destruction of the American dream," the president, a former Democrat, said last month.
Unions and corporations aren't immune to the institutional sliming. In May, when the nation's largest firefighters union, the International Association of Firefighters, had the temerity to endorse Democrat Joe Biden, Trump claimed to have "done more for firefighters than this dues-sucking union will ever do." He also mentioned dues payments when the president "counterpunched" United Steelworkers 1999 in Indiana, whose president said Trump broke a promise to save jobs at a Carrier plant.
Despite signing a massive corporate tax cut, Trump also has sneered at individual companies whose interests might have crossed his own politically — including Apple, Google, Toyota, General Motors, AT&T, Ford and Amazon.