Make It So: Trump’s Dismantling Of America
If you haven’t seen the Bill O’Reilly’s interview with Donald Trump, you should. But here’s just a taster:
Yes, that really is the President of the United States brushing off murder like it’s no biggie. But I’m more interested in his very last question: “Do you think America is so innocent?”
No one with any intelligence and even the smallest interest in history thinks America is innocent. America has had some spectacularly bad foreign policy positions. It’s gone to war for stupid reasons. It’s not always exercised its massive power well, or wisely, or morally.
But what makes America fundamentally different from a country like Russia, is that it has always possessed the democratic, journalistic and legal framework to know of its errors and to make the changes to correct its course.
Three institutions keep America from being Russia:
- Free and fair elections (yes, there have been issues of disenfranchisement, but compared to many other places in the world, it has been considered an exemplar of electoral virtue)
- A free, unrestricted press.
- A free and unencumbered judiciary.
Trump may hallucinate 4 million illegitimate voters, but they don’t exist. US has extremely low levels of voter fraud.
And while people may bemoan the reliability of profit-motivated news institutions, and rightly worry about how they covered the past election, the press in America still enjoys robust legal protections under which to carry out its job.
Finally, while you may have read of a few crazy judges handing down utterly moronic judgements, the bulk of America’s judiciary is well-educated, skilled, and ethical.
And it is not accidental that these are exactly the institutions – the moving parts that ensure a working democracy – that Trump has publicly and systematically attempted to undermine, erode or shake our confidence in.
Target one: a free press.
Trump spent the whole of the campaign attacking the media. All presidential candidates face tough questions and criticisms from the press. They understand that this is part of electoral process. The press often positions itself, naturally and needfully, in an adversarial position to power or to those who seek power. Trump didn’t just criticize the press for its accuracy. He often punished them for their accuracy. He corralled them in pens at his rallies and directed the rage of his supporters at the press. After the election, he has constantly lambasted every legitimate media outlet that does not fawn on him. He has denied them access. Sent them spokespeople who lie over and over and will not divulge a single straight answer to any question. And the press, for their part, have not acquitted themselves very well as an institution, either.
However, Trump has succeeded convincing his supporters that all – ALL – mainstream media is unreliable and corrupt. His followers now ONLY get their ‘news’ from Fox and Breitbart. For them, he has succeeded in curtailing access to anything resembling responsible journalistic coverage.
Target two: confidence in the electoral process.
Long before Trump announced his candidacy for president, he was at work undermining public confidence in the electoral process.
Obama not only won the electoral college, but the popular vote by 5 million. But even in 2012, Trump was making blatantly false statements, encouraging people to ignore the democratically arrived at outcome, and eroding people’s confidence in the voting process.
In the last year, Donald Trump has constantly insisted the voting process couldn’t be trusted. But only ever when the he was the one who didn’t like the count. Despite winning the electoral college and being sworn in as President, Trump continues to insist, with absolutely no proof, that he lost the popular vote due to voter fraud committed by illegal immigrants.
There is no evidence that this is the case. In fact, the possibility of the fraud being on the order he insists is statistically impossible. One half of all illegal immigrants would have had to have risked deportation at polling stations and all of them would have had to have voted for Hillary Clinton.
While even some of his own cabinet have tried to downplay his insistence that the loss of the popular vote was due to voter fraud, and every statistical and electoral organization in the US has rejected his claims, Trump continues to insist he was ‘robbed’. And the vast majority his supporters believe him. They now are convinced that it was only by virtue of some inexplicable failure of the vast, shadowy conspiracy apparatus, that their candidate was actually sworn in as president.
Trump has succeeded, with a significant minority of Americans, in completely destroying confidence in the fairness of the voting process.
Target three: The Judiciary
Donald Trump’s travails with the law goes back decades. There is myriad evidence that he feels he is above the law himself, and that the legal system is an obstacle that gets in his way.
In 1973, he was sued by the Justice department for racial discrimination after refusing to rent an apartment to African Americans. In 2002, when the original defendants in the Central Park Jogger case were acquitted after DNA evidence and a confession proved their innocence, Donald Trump doubled down on his original calls to have them executed, refusing to accept the exonerating evidence or acknowledge their wrongful convictions.
In June, 2016, Donald Trump publicly disputed the judicial integrity of U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, first accusing him of not being American and then, when this was found to be untrue, insisting that Curiel’s Hispanic heritage made him unable to hear the Trump University case impartially, after Trump publicly disparaged Mexicans.
Now, Trump has publicly impugned the very judicial authority of District Judge James Robart who issued a stay against the White House’s Executive Order to ban the immigration of legal visa holders from 7 Muslim-majority countries. His tweet identified Robart as a ‘so-called judge’.
While liberals might read a tweet like that and laugh at yet another example of Trump’s sour-grapes twitter rages, his supporters are being acclimatized to the idea that judges are only judges if Donald Trump says they are.
Project it, then make it so
America is not Russia. But what is clear from Donald Trump’s sustained attack on the press, the judiciary and confidence in the fairness of the voting process, is that he wants America to be Russia, and he is working very hard to destroy all the facets of American democracy that keep the country free, accountable and law-abiding.
His implied equivalence between America and Russia in the O’Reilly interview was a telegraph message, not of what is, but of what will be, if he gets his way.