Sunday, February 12, 2017

An Incomplete List of Trump's Authoritarian Actions

On CBS's Face The Nation Trump advisor Stephan Miller was asked by John Dickerson what the Trump administration has learned from their experience with the executive order banning Muslims from specific countries. He responded thusly:

"Well, I think that it's an important reminder to all Americans that we have a judiciary that has taken far too much power and become in many cases a supreme branch of government . . . The end result of this, though, is that our opponents, the media, and the whole world, will soon see, as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned."

Since President Trump's inauguration on January 21st he has taken a series of unprecedented actions to consolidate as much governmental power into the executive branch a he can.  Of course he is certainly not the first modern president to accrue more power to the executive.  Every modern president has done so.  This was the main thesis of Arthur Schlessinger Jr.'s classic The Imperial Presidency.  However, the speed and scale with which the Trump administration is consolidating executive power at the expense of the other branches is astonishing to say the least.  Furthermore, when this information is seen within the context of Donald Trump's unquestionably authoritarian mindset his moves do not bode well for the basic institutions and norms of our democratic system.  Below is an incomplete list of the things the Trump administration has done so far to turn our nation into an authoritarian state.

Colluded with an Adversarial Government to Manipulate the Outcome of the Election
As has been widely reported the Trump campaign appears to have colluded with Vladimir Putin's government to manipulate last year's presidential election in his favor.  Trump himself even acknowledged that the Russian government hacked into Democratic Party's computer systems during the election.  Additionally it was recently revealed that Michael Flynn, Trump's National Security advisor, may have discussed lifting sanctions imposed on Russia by the outgoing Obama administration in late December due to their interference in our elections.  Should these allegations be proven true then Michael Flynn will likely have broken the Logan Act which prohibits civilians from engaging in diplomacy with foreign governments.

Systematic Marginalization of the Free Press
During his campaign Donald Trump repeatedly accused the media of fabricating lies about him and his actions, without any evidence.  He took this tactic a step further in his first press conference as president-elect when he berated a CNN reporter who asked for a follow up question to Trump's statements that CNN and Buzzfeed had lied about a dossier that had been released about Trump's Russia connections.  Trump called Buzzfeed a "failing pile of garbage," and called CNN "fake news." Even more chilling, the White House Press Secretary threatened to remove CNN from future press conferences if they continued to ask tough questions.  Additionally he has recently take advice from Stalin and Mao in declaring our free and open press to be the enemy  of the people. Additionally he has recently take advice from Stalin and Mao in declaring our free and open press to be the enemy of the people The Trump administration has also shown a clear preference for less reputable outlets who give him flattering coverage, a classic authoritarian move.  From his forcing reporters into a basement with blacked out windows at Trump National Jupiter Golf Club and Spa while he golfed with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, to the D.C. Metropolitan Police arresting six reporters covering anti-Trump protests on inauguration day and filing felony rioting charges, to attempts to limit media access to the Whitehouse, Trump is taking every tip from the authoritarian playbook to limit and destroy the free press.

Suppression of Science that Challenges Ideology
The Trump administration has shown that it does not respect scientists and agencies that produce objective empirical evidence of global warming and its dire effects.  Trump has placed a "temporary hold" on agencies such as the EPA from releasing their research.  On top of that Trump himself has courted anti vaxxers such as Robert Kennedy Jr. to be part of his administration.  He even met with Andrew Wakefield, disgraced anti-vax physician, in August 2016.  The potential dangers of opposing scientific information on ideological grounds are myriad, just ask those that lived through the Stalin era in the Soviet Union.

Scapegoating and Vilifying Marginalized Populations
The muslim ban, the wall, calling Mexicans rapist and murderers, proposing a weekly report of crimes committed by immigrants, and physical assaults of Black Lives Matter protestors at his rallies are but a few of the ways in which the Trump administration is gearing up to deport, arrest, and harm members of marginalized populations for political gain.  Scapegoating never ends well.

Appointing a Political Operative to the National Security Council
In late January Trump issued an executive order appointing Steve Bannon, his chief political advisor, to the principals committee of the National Security Council.  Although previous presidents have had political advisors sit in on some NSC meetings, the act of appointing a political advisor, with no relevant experience, to the principals committee, while simultaneously reducing the role of the Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of National Intelligence, is unprecedented and utterly chilling.  There is absolutely no reason why a political advisor should have anything to do with national security decisions, unless one is looking to suppress his political opponents.

Marginalization and Demonization of a Coequal Branch of Government
In late January Donald Trump issued his now infamous executive order banning immigrants from seven majority muslim countries several judges halted parts of the ban, with a judge in Washington State putting a stay on the order.  Despite these rulings in the days after Customs and Border Patrol was still enforcing the ban.  And in the spirit of saying "Fuck it!" to the whole concept of checks and balances Trump plans on issuing a new executive order ostensibly doing the same. Furthermore, the president has gone so far as to marginalize the federal courts in declaring that there were to be a terrorist attack then the courts are to blame. Setting such precedents is a direct attack on some of our most basic democratic institutions and values.

Using His Office for the Financial Benefit of Him and His Family
We have seen time and again that President Trump intends to use his office not to serve the American people, but rather to enrich himself and his family. At his January 11 press conference while still president-elect Trump revealed a farcical plan to separate himself from his business interests around the world, which most ethics experts agree do no such thing. And let's not forget that many have argued that Trump has been in violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution since he assumed office. For example, since becoming president the membership fee at Mar-a-Lago has doubled from $100,000 to $200,000, presumably so that the wealthy can buy access to the president. Then there is the libel lawsuit filed by Melania Trump against the Daily Mail for reports by the tabloid that she may have worked as an escort during her modeling career. On the face of it this is completely rational, until the suit alleges that the story damages a "unique, once in a lifetime opportunity" to make millions of dollars off her position as First Lady. And who will ever forget Kellyanne Conway's impromptu "commercial" for Ivanka Trump's clothing line.

Keeping His Own Private Security Force in Addiction to Secret Service Protection
Donald Trump has not given up his own private security force despite having secret service protection since he became a serious candidate for office. As explained in the link above this seriously complicates the job of the Secret Service, and potentially puts him in harms way. However, what is even more disturbing is the question of loyalty. The Secret Service is charged with protecting and defending the Constitution form all enemies foreign and domestic, and by extension the President. What that means is that the Secret Service will always protect the president from harm, but not from dissent. By contrast his own private security force is loyal to Trump only. So when Trump says to his force "Get rid of those protestors" they will comply. The Secret Service, by their very mission, cannot suppress dissent in that way since their first obligation is to the Constitution.

Undermining The Very Notion of Truth and Reality
Ironically conservatives for years have lambasted liberals and progressives for their "post modern" relativism and questioning of truth. It seems that lately they've jumped onto that bandwagon with the rise of Trumpism. The list of lies and misinformation is long, but here is a small sample:
-Claims that over 3 million undocumented immigrants voted for Clinton
-Trump claimed that the murder rate is at it's highest in 47 years, when in fact the opposite is true
-He claimed that his inauguration crowd was six times larger than it actually was
-During the campaign Trump said that Ted Cruz's father was involved in the JFK assassination
-Quite dangerously Sean Spicer claimed that Iran had attacked US Navy vessels
-In an anti-China rant Trump said that China is purposely devaluing its currency and that the U.S. does not impose tariffs on Chinese imports

I could go on and on, but others have done a better job than I've done here. Here is a list of 101 of Trump's greatest lies.  Some of the lies are silly and benign, such as the claims about the crowd size at his inauguration. But others, such as claims of hostile actions from Iran or Chinese currency suppression can have real world and disastrous consequences, such as starting a trade war or an actual shooting war. This is right out of the authoritarian playbook. The purpose of spreading such ridiculous lies to to undermine any attempt to ascertain the truth. When so many lies and falsehoods are introduced into the either his supporters come to believe that lies from all sides are to be expected, and hence all claims to truth can be ignored. Among his dissenters a malaise and cynicism sets in which allows the regime to craft reality as they see fit while the opposition flounders under an avalanche of unreality.
 . . . . . .

As the title of this post suggests this list is far from exhaustive. Over the coming weeks, months, and unfortunately, years, I will be regularly adding items to this list.  Hopefully, with active and persistent resistance, I can retire this list sooner rather than later.  If not, then our democracy will be lost. Below you will find links to various organizations that will be doing the hard work of resisting, either directly or indirectly, the authoritarianism of Donald Trump. You can go directly to their websites to donate money or find ways to volunteer to help them in their important work. With each of these organizations see if you can find a local chapter to donate to or volunteer with. Please feel free to suggest other groups to be added in the comments section.

American Civili Liberties Union
The Anti-Defamation League
Planned Parenthood
The Southern Poverty Law Center
Committee to Protect Journalists
Council on American Islamic Relations
Human Rights Campaign
People for the American Way
NAACP Legal Defense Fund
Union of Concerned Scientists
Internet Archive

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