While Trump Distracts The People, Republicans Are Quietly Killing US Democracy
As Americans obsess over the Russia investigation and the fallout of James Comey testimony, a clear and present danger is emerging from the fog of distraction created by the Trump administration, and it’s truly terrifying.
It’s not a secret that Donald Trump has authoritarian tendencies and a baffling admiration for despots. He has a penchant for attacking democratic institutions and appears willing to sacrifice them in a heartbeat on the altar of his ego.
No, Donald Trump is not a dictator or a fascist… yet. But the threat the ‘so called’ president and his Republican allies pose to US democracy is not overblown.
For example: while there were many moments during the president’s first official overseas trip that were disconcerting to First Amendment advocates — including the failure to hold open press conferences — perhaps none was more chilling than the comments made by Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross as he took note of the lack of protesters during the visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: “Not one guy with a bad placard,” he said, approvingly, seemingly interpreting this as a sign of President Donald Trump’s popularity.
When CNBC host Becky Quist pointed out that this perhaps was because Saudi Arabia officials “control people and don’t allow them to come and express their feelings quite the same as we do here,” Ross stuck to his view. “In theory, that could be true,” he said, “but boy there was certainly no sign of it. There was not a single effort at any incursion. There wasn’t anything. The mood was a genuinely good mood.”
The “good mood” for the American officials is achieved by repression of expression by Saudi people.
The Trump administration seems to crave policies that justify repressive anti-protest laws, but unlike Saudi Arabia’s, the US Constitution is designed to preserve and protect dissent, protest, and disagreement — not the “good mood” of those in power.
Yet President Trump — with his open disdain for the “fake media,” his calls to make it easier to sue for libel, and his suggestions that street protests exist only because liberals pay protesters — appears in some ways more comfortable with the Saudi approach.
And it’s not just a question of the president’s attitude: There are disturbing signs of a nationwide attempt to crack down on dissent.
Recently, the Justice Department prosecuted a protester for laughing at Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Desiree Ali-Fairooz was arrested for “unlawful conduct on Capitol grounds,” including disorderly or disruptive conduct. The government described Ali-Fairooz as producing “a loud burst of laughter, followed by a louder burst of laughter.”
It’s also troubling that Ali-Fairooz was singled out because she appeared to be a protester. A government motion describes Ali-Fairooz, accurately, as “wearing a pink shirt and a pink hat, with the words Code Pink written on it.” She, therefore, appears to have been identified by police, in advance, as a dissenter by her attire and associations and then put under scrutiny that other audience members did not face.
In another disturbing development, several Republican governors have signed new laws that raise the legal and financial risks of protesting. Additionally, a new array of state and local level proposals has sought to regulate dissent, seemingly targeting Black Lives Matter, pro-environmental groups, and anti-Trump protesters.
In Oklahoma, the governor recently signed into law a new bill that would let officials assess a fine of up to $1 million against any organization “found to be a conspirator” with persons convicted under the anti-protest statute. First Amendment advocates anticipate that the law could bankrupt nonprofits that organize or participate in protests if a rogue “protester” engages in vandalism.
In Mississippi, a pending bill would make “a person sitting, standing or lying in a public road or highway that would impede or hinder the passage of emergency vehicles” a felony punishable imprisonment of five years and a fine up to $10,000.00. And the bill does not require emergency vehicles to actually be impeded.
A different strategy invites vigilantism. A bill introduced in Tennessee would immunize drivers who injure a person who is participating in a protest or demonstration and is blocking traffic in a public right of way. Florida passed a similar bill. The clear message is that drivers inconvenienced by demonstrations should be able to take matters into their own hands.
In less than six months in office, Trump has crippled American democracy while simultaneously accelerating democracy’s global decline.
He has spouted several dangerous lies that a sizable portion of his political base, unfortunately, believes to be true. As a result, he has already managed to do major damage to democracy at home and abroad in five important ways.
He has undercut the integrity of U.S. elections. He falsely claimed that millions of people voted illegally last year. That’s not true. That is a serious challenge to public faith in the bedrock of American democracy.
He has brazenly violated basic standards of transparency and government ethics. Democracy requires transparency. If citizens are not informed about the workings of their government, they cannot hold it accountable.
Take for example his continuing refusal to release his tax returns. At first, he used the extraordinarily flimsy excuse of an audit, but now he has even abandoned that fig leaf. Until Trump issues his tax returns, we don’t know whether he is governing for American interests or his bank account.
He refuses to release White House visitor logs — so nobody can see who is coming and going to meet the president. Is there an endless stream of lobbyists? Or perhaps some high-profile foreign agents, like the ones he previously hired for his campaign? We have no clue, because Trump reversed an Obama-era policy to tell the American people who is coming to the taxpayer-funded White House.
This lack of transparency also bleeds into ethics violations and conflicts of interest that have gone unpunished — from using taxpayer dollars to promote Trump businesses to currying favor with foreign leaders apparently to receive lucrative trademarks abroad.
Donald Trump and his GOP allies are a unique threat to democracy in a way that we haven’t experienced before. We must be vigilant. There are 1,318 days left until the next election.