trump's ordered resignations of 46 US prosecutors on Friday, in one of those possible events that turns into a terrible moment of awareness. Trump's mode of action is a sign that we are in the hands of an incipient dictator. This is not because ousting 46 prosecutors is in itself that unusual or even horrible. You could see it as a common aspect of presidential transitions. But yesterday's action sends an ominous and chilling message and it is important to unpack it and look at its meaning.

Abrupt and sweeping

Trump professed to want a smooth transition.

Friday's act was as rough as it gets. Responding to his right-wing base, Trump delivered a wholesale body blow to the remaining Obama-appointed federal prosecutors. The sign within this summary action was the inclusion of one prosecutor who progressives might see as the best hope for justice in all the US, a man named Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Bharara would seem like the ideal Trump appointee if you were told that he is relentlessly going after associates of Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and progressive Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York on corruption and pay-for-play charges. The problem is that Bharara is even-handed and prosecutes high police officials as well.

Early in his young administration, it looked as though Trump would spare the strong attorney. Yesterday the ax fell.

The reason why

Why did President Trump turn what could have been an orderly process into what looks like a purge? Like other things he has done, the explanation is: to add fuel to the fire. Trump has not tried to extricate himself from his own Russia mess by ignoring it.

He has attacked the very center of what could come at him and do him in.

The higher the flame gets the more the president denies. The result is exactly what happened yesterday. To avoid a straight-forward investigation, you fire the man who has the best chance of obtaining one. Chalk one up for Donald Trump. Take another point off our imperiled democracy.