Over the weekend, President Donald Trump (once again) made headlines with his penchant for bigotry, demagoguery, and endless pursuit of money and power. Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Republican-appointed majority giving him carte blanche (again), Trump can continue diverting federal dollars for “The Wall” that he promised Mexico would pay for. And thanks to so many politicians’ cowardice, Trump can continue celebrating racism and using it to take on “economic anxiety”.
Late last Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a 5-4 party-line vote that essentially gives Trump another hall pass. Akin to last year’s party-line vote to whitewash Trump’s ban on refugee admissions from hand-picked Central American and Muslim-majority nations, they overruled a lower court injunction against Trump’s emergency declaration to divert $6 billion from various federal budget accounts in order to “Build The Wall”.
Even though Trump’s move goes expressly against the intent of Congress in appropriating funds to these programs instead of Trump’s desired border wall, the Republican-appointed majority claimed the plaintiffs (a coalition of environmentalists and immigrant rights advocates) lacked standing.
While this lawsuit will proceed in lower courts alongside other suits challenging Trump’s efforts to reshape the law without the consent of lawmakers, this Supreme Court ruling allows Trump to continue acting as if he’s above the law. And considering this and other Supreme Court rulings in the Trump era, perhaps the Republican majority truly do consider him above the law.
Yes, this again
We’ve lost count of all the times Trump has said something bigoted. More recently, he attacked “The Squad” of four progressive Members of Congress (Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez [D-New York], Ayanna Pressley [D-Massachusetts], Rashida Tlaib [D-Michigan], and Ilhan Omar [D-Minnesota]) and encouraged his “economic anxiety” plagued base to “send them back”. This time, he not only attacked another person of color in Congress with his comments against Rep. Elijah Cummings‘ (D-Maryland), but he also attacked Cummings’ constituents by declaring Baltimore a place “where no human being would want to live”.
As we’ve been saying repeatedly, this is no accident. Trump’s entire 2016 campaign was based on the premise that “economic anxiety” could only be cured with white nationalism, and his entire 2020 campaign thus far is the assertion that only his brand of white nationalism can deliver the economic salvation that he hasn’t actually delivered.
While the overall economy has continued growing under Trump, the latest gross domestic product numbers (2.1% in the last quarter, down from 3.1% in 2019’s first quarter, and 2018 annual GDP growth was revised down to 2.9%) offer further evidence that “Trumponomics” has failed to deliver the 4%+ annual GDP growth he promised on the campaign trail and as recently as December 2017. Furthermore, the concentration of growth and benefits amongst the wealthiest of individuals and corporations disproves his “blue-collar billionaire” branding that led voters to believe Trump would “fight for the little guy”.
Why this again?
Never mind Jared Kushner owning apartment buildings in Baltimore that have been cited for health and safety violations. Never mind Trump’s own checkered slumlord past. Never mind Trump’s use of immigrant labor at his properties. And never mind Trump’s own use of work permits and the family unification policy to secure legal status for (now First Lady) Melania and her parents.
So long as Trump projects the fulfillment of the “great white hope” while taking on the alleged clear and present danger posed by “the others”, he can argue to his base that he’s working to solve their “economic anxiety”. It’s not so much about actual economic progress, let alone progress in solving our structural economic problems, as it is about the imagery of taking from those unworthy of greatness in order to “Make America Great Again”.
However, that imagery can only take Trump so far if it doesn’t match reality. And with his poll numbers generally as low as ever, he has to run on “economic anxiety” in a way that shifts blame onto “the others” who are undeserving of his greatness.
Will we let this happen again?
Over the course of last Wednesday’s Congressional hearings with Robert Mueller, we were reminded again of Trump’s close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his network of compliant oligarchs. Over the weekend, nearly 1,400 people were arrested in Moscow for daring to protest the Russian government’s plan to essentially rig the Moscow City Council “election” this fall by handpicking candidates to run.
Ever since his initial ascent to power nearly two decades ago, Putin has promised to “restore Russia’s greatness”. But with a stagnating economy and growing discontent, Putin has resorted to his tried-and-(anything-but-)true poison (both propaganda and physical?) to strengthen his iron grip over Russia. And if this doesn’t appear eerily familiar enough, keep in mind the Putin regime’s campaign against LGBTQ+ communities, his use of the Russian Orthodox Church and the “triumph of Christianity” to portray his agenda as righteous and divinely ordained, and the Russian government’s attacks on human rights across the board, all while Putin-era Russia continues to backslide from new democracy to corrupt autocracy.
The descent into tyranny usually doesn’t happen overnight. It happens when presidents govern by fiat, legislators abdicate their constitutional duty to legislate, people are stripped of their rights in the name of “defending freedom”, cronies are rewarded for their “loyalty”, outright bigotry is reduced to “playing politics”, and such legal and ethical failures like bigotry, corruption, and dishonesty are spun as “populism”… And we all just sit silently and accept all of this as “normal”.
This descent into tyranny has happened before, and it’s already happening again in places like Russia, Hungary, and Brazil. We’ve seen rampant warning signs indicating that it’s already begun here in America, yet it’s much easier for us to ignore these signs and pretend all is well. The signs may not be as obvious as what we see in the Star Wars series, The Handmaid’s Tale, or even the poor dog drinking coffee amidst the blazing inferno, but that doesn’t mean we should blithely ignore these warning signs, especially if we prefer not to make the same mistakes again.