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Sunday, February 19, 2017

Don’t get distracted

The editors of the Catholic magazine Commonweal remind us that this new era is not normal.
We must not forget that.

Every day brings new outrages or misdeeds. 

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 Trumpism.

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.

Don’t get distracted.