I’ve had an emerging sinking feeling for the last few days that we’re missing the forest for the trees. Yes, each new salvo against civil liberties is important and deserving of our attention and our activism. However, at the same time, Trump fired the acting Attorney General for daring to disagree with him and impugned her character in the process. He also fired Thomas Countryman and other senior State Department staff who would perhaps not be amenable to his agenda. His Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that career bureaucrats should either get with the program or leave. He passed executive orders without checking with the Justice Department or other departments relevant to each of those orders. He also ordered the Department of Homeland Security to continue to enforce an order that the courts had deemed unconstitutional. He and Bannon called the media the ‘opposition party.’ Bannon, said that the press should keep their mouths shut. The White House froze out CNN and refused to allow any of their surrogates or administration officials to appear on the network. And this is just the first twelve days.
What we are seeing is a lurch towards American neo-fascism. Make no mistake about it. The first things a leader with autocratic intent does are delegitimize the opposition, begin to purge their government of those who disagree with them, delegitimize the media and tamp down on freedom of the press, and defy the checks on their own power. Donald Trump has done all of these things in just twelve days. This is the big picture of what we’re dealing with. It’s no longer a matter of if we have a constitutional crisis, it’s when. The big question is, when it happens, will there be enough Republicans in the Senate and House with a spine who will vote to remove the President from office? I have my doubts.
We need to be calling out this creeping fascism every single day. The media is uncomfortable with uttering the words, still engaging in false equivalencies and ignorant of the fact that we are dealing with an entirely new beast. They need to get comfortable with tossing out the old rules, because this administration is already doing it. Some do see it, but not many. David Frum wrote a fascinating article for the Atlantic the other day entitled “How to Build an Autocracy”. Also foreign press seems to see Trump for exactly who he is. But American sources seem too concerned with presenting both sides. I recently read “In The Garden of Beasts” by Erik Larson, which is a non-fiction book about the United States ambassador to Germany in the 1930s leading up to the start of WWII. This should be required reading right now.
Ambassador Dodd was one of the few who saw what was happening for what it was. But he was increasingly frustrated with how the regime would deflect or distract with the news cycle, and how the media in Europe felt obliged to present the Nazi side of the story as legitimate. No, I’m not calling Trump a Nazi. But my point is that us liberals are very easily distracted by issues of civil rights. These are worthy causes. Trust me, as a queer person, they’re personally important for me as well. But we have to be careful not to get so focused on each individual issue, racking up minor victories, while not seeing the fact that our country’s democracy is slowly being turned into something unrecognizable. We can’t get so wrapped up in the trees that we don’t see the forest.