An opinion piece by Reed Brody, a New York-based human rights lawyer and ICJ Commissioner.
After two months of Trump’s presidency, the battle lines are drawn.
On one side, a would-be dictator with an utter disregard for the foundations of a constitutional democracy: checks and balances, the independence of the judiciary (“so-called” judges), freedom of the press (“the enemy of the people”), the rule of law and the protection of minorities.
Despite the lack of a popular mandate, which he preposterously blamed on millions of illegal voters, Donald Trump is determined to radically transform America, and its relation with the world.
His demonization of Muslims and undocumented foreigners, like the border wall with Mexico, are cruel tactics to stoke fear for political gain and part of a long-term strategy to remake America by changing its demographics.
On the other side, an unprecedented citizen mobilization. The nationwide Women’s Marches the day after Trump’s inauguration were by far the largest demonstrations in US history.
When Trump’s first “Muslim ban” was announced only days later, people spontaneously flooded the airports around the country.
Two months later, this “Resistance” has not slowed – “this is a marathon not a sprint” is the warning one hears at almost every meeting and rally in which we participate.
All around the country, citizens fearful for the future have packed elected officials’ town hall meetings and flooding Congress with petitions, postcards, and phone calls.
Over 500,000 people have downloaded the “Indivisible Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda”. Over 30,000 people take part in regular nationwide “”Ready to Resist” calls on upcoming strategies.
The premier legal organization challenging Trump’s actions in the courts, the American Civil Liberties Union, raised $24 million in the days following the first Muslim ban.
At my Brooklyn neighborhood synagogue, over 3,000 people organize local activities through 33 working groups including “standing with our immigrant neighbors” and “opposing Trump’s conflicts of interest and corruption.”
What can we expect next?
We live, more than at any time since the US Civil War, in a nation divided into “two Americas.” Liberals and ethnic minorities dominate the cities and the coasts, conservatives the vast rural areas in between.
We watch our TV channels, they watch theirs. We have our newspapers (virtually all of them), they have inflammatory “talk radio.” We have our elected officials, they have theirs, in districts dominated by one party or the other.
The urban concentration of progressives means that the electoral system at all levels favors rural white conservatives, which is why Trump won a large electoral college victory despite losing the popular vote by over three million, and also why the House and Senate are Republican despite an equally large Democratic majority.
But it also means that Democrats are the overwhelming majority in the places that matter most to the economy and the culture – cities like New York City (79% Clinton), Washington DC (93%), Los Angeles (72%), and so on.
Establishment Republicans who were once horrified by Trump have made a Faustian bargain to ignore the clear danger he poses as long as he helps enact their conservative agenda of tax cuts for the rich, elimination of business and environmental regulations, repeal of “Obamacare,” and the transformation of the federal judiciary.
Trump’s proposed budget deeply slashes social programs for the poor, as well as funding for the environment and arts, while super-sizing the military. Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House who kept his distance from candidate Trump, said they were working together on the “most productive Congress and presidency in our lifetime.”
The question for moderate Republicans (a dying breed) is whether there will ever come a “line in the sand” which they will not let Trump cross.
It is also a question for America’s allies who can challenge Trump on human rights, as has Angela Merkel, Justin Trudeau and most recently Irish PM Enda Kenny.
Because if Trump gets his way, we will see increasingly authoritarian measures in the name of “security.”
Already, large-scale deportations of undocumented persons are underway, ripping apart families and communities.
Who knows how the Administration will take advantage of the next terrorist attack and the one after (Trump said he “didn’t know” if he would have supported the internment of 110,000 Japanese-Americans and Japanese after the attack on Pearl Harbor). With Trump’s reckless approach to foreign policy, we could very well see international calamity.
But it is increasingly possible that Trump will not get his way. The mass resistance, coupled with the White House’s breathtaking incompetence, has stiffened many spines.
The courts have suspended enforcement of both the first and second Muslim Bans. The mainstream press has indeed, in the words of Trump strategist Stephen Bannon, taken on the role of the “opposition party.”
Everything has become political today. Sports. Oscars. Shopping. Companies in high-tech and globalized industries opposed the travel ban. Consumer companies support Trump (or sell his family’s products) at their peril – when Uber appeared to seek profit a New York City taxi strike to protest the Muslim Ban, 200,000 customers deleted their Uber accounts.
The leaks from US intelligence agencies about the Trump campaign’s contacts with Putin’s Russia also threaten Trump’s future, not only for what they may reveal about his collusion with Russia, but because they suggest that the “deep state,” (a term familiar to Turks and Egyptians but never used in America until now) is worried about where Trump might take the country and the world.
Another scenario then is that at some point the chaos and disruption will become so costly that the establishment will risk enraging Trump’s already angry base and seek to replace him with the more traditional conservative Mike Pence.
Even if they don’t lead to Trump’s impeachment or resignation, though, all of these actions make it harder for him to implement his radical agenda and more likely that America (and the world) will survive Trump with some semblance of our liberties and democracy intact.
If that happens, perhaps we will indeed “Make America Great Again,” just not in the way Donald Trump intended.