Any of the stories flitting across our screens might have been
enough to dominate the news for days or weeks during previous presidencies:
continuing investigations into Russian interference in the election, shameless
lies by the White House staff, unhinged statements to the press, saber-rattling
tweets, unvetted cabinet nominees, Trump’s continued refusal to release his tax
returns, and surreal exchanges with foreign heads of state.
Surely one element of Trump’s
strategy is to exhaust his critics and divert their attention, making it
difficult for ordinary citizens to focus on what really matters or even keep
track of what is actually happening.
Terms like “autocrat” and
“authoritarian” are being used by thoughtful observers to describe Trump, and
not without reason.
His executive order banning
entry of people from seven predominantly Muslim countries, among other
draconian measures, is only the most prominent example.
Reliable information on the inner
workings of the Trump White House is hard to come by, but there are credible
reports that the legal advice of Homeland Security officials was ignored during
the executive order’s drafting, and that congressional staffers who had to sign
nondisclosure agreements also were involved.
When the new policies were
abruptly put into effect, chaos ensued at airports around the country, drawing
thousands of protesters who expressed solidarity with those stranded and
afraid, and sparking criticism worldwide.
The fate of the order is now
being fought out in the courts, but its motivation is clear: bigotry and
fear-mongering, not empirical evidence. Rudolph Giuliani, a close Trump ally,
admitted the president asked him how he could impose a “Muslim ban” legally.
Tough vetting procedures
established during the Obama presidency were already working; since 9/11, no
one in this country has been killed by a terrorist from any of the seven
countries on the order’s list.
Trump is now attacking a
Republican-appointed judge who suspended the ban, describing him as a
“so-called judge” and decrying the ability of the courts to thwart his will.
Dangerous terrorists could be
pouring into the country, Trump warned, suggesting it would be the judge who
has blood on his hands if the worst happened. Just weeks into his presidency,
Trump is assaulting the independence of the judiciary and chafing against the
separation of powers…..
The task ahead is clear:
extreme vigilance and, wherever necessary, resistance.
As the Russian-American dissident
Masha Gessen has warned, in situations like the one now confronting the United
States, “politics as the art of the possible is in fact utterly amoral.”
The “corrupting touch” of
autocracy will forever stain the reputations of those who are co-opted by
Congressional Democrats must do
nothing to enable this administration, and everything they can to minimize the
damage that it causes.
Trump is showing us exactly who
he is, and the disturbing vision he has for the country.