Elections have consequences. It's a fact of political life. But the consequences in the first few weeks of President Donald Trump's term are proving disconcerting, and not because his administration is moving quickly to undo many of the policies implemented by former President Barack Obama. That was to be expected.
What we did not expect was the rapid unraveling of some of the basic institutions that are the underpinning of our democracy. I say that with full knowledge that my detractors will take the time to call and email (address listed below as always) in the coming weeks. I consider that part of our stated mission years ago – to foster debate in the community on issues, so I accept it. But I refuse the accept the dark days ahead with the new administration.
I simply cannot resist raising a flag now about the transformation that is already taking place in our country thanks to Trump and the rogue staff that surrounds him in the Oval Office. Yes, I find it alarming, and even those who supported him as our national leader should take stock of what is happening. If you doubt there is reason for concern, then consider the following.
First there were the relentless attacks on the institution of the news media, historically referred to as the Fourth Estate because of its important role of monitoring the powers that be, forcing transparency and taking a critical look at how our government functions.
The effort to minimize the role of the press began on the campaign trail and has continued with the first few weeks of the new administration. Claims of 'fake news' and 'bias' on an almost daily basis over time has allowed Trump to create an alternate reality for his base of followers, and establishing an almost Owellian Ministry of Truth situation where falsehoods and lies (yes, lies) become the new reality for followers desperate to have their votes validated over the course of the four-year term. To bolster his version of reality, he has even ordered his departments to not speak with the press (note our inability to speak with anyone from the EPA for our story on paraquat in this issue), one more attempt to control the information that gets consumed by citizens. And let's not forget the daily press briefings where attention is now being paid to obscure, far right media outlets at the expense of the more legitimate news organizations that are not known for lobbing softball questions.
Then we have the slow drip critique of the courts, another institution whose independence must be preserved if the democracy is to remain strong. Like with the media, it began on the campaign trail when he criticized a judge as not being qualified because of his family's heritage to hear a case involving Trump's so-called business school. It came full circle when he wrote the courts off as they failed to support his poorly written travel ban on immigrants. Trump then sent out one of his less-than-forthcoming minions to work the Sunday political talk shows to boldly state that the President's judgement could not be challenged by the courts. Scary stuff.
Let's also throw in his occasional off-hand digs at the value of Congress, the legislative branch that should stand as both a check and balance against the administration if our democratic principles are to be preserved. So hungry for power, or hoping to curry favor with the administration, GOP members of the House and Senate – with few exceptions – are giving all indications of serving simply as lapdogs. The jury is still out, but it is not very promising.
President Trump has even attempted to inject politics into the military during speaking engagements before our servicemen and servicewomen. And he has no understanding that the intelligence community is not an extension of his office but a group of professionals dutifully serving the country, regardless of what political party holds the top elected post. Witness his appointment of one of his radical right Breitbart acolyates and political advisors (Steve Bannon) to the National Security Council. A most dangerous situation for a country that was founded on the principle that these two facets of the government should stay above politics. The last thing we need is a politicized military or intelligence community – that's how governments get overthrown.
So the alternate reality is nearly complete. Undermine the sources of information, allowing 'alternative facts' from the Trump administration to be foisted on the public, with a wounded press, court system and Congress, the only check and balance forces in the democracy.
What has quickly developed is a presidency that has all the makings of an authoritarian regime in which dissent is stifled and truth is what the administration spoon feeds to the public. We have seen this type of so-called leader before, both in the past here (think Nixon) and in the current world political landscape where some countries on the other side of the globe chafe under the rule of less-than-democratic rulers.
A bleak assessment, indeed. But I still place my bets on the press and the courts and what is no doubt going to be a spirited fight to uphold the U.S. Constitution. It's why our forefathers wrote it – to protect our democracy – almost as if they saw the day in which hucksters and populist showmen would possibly snake their way to the office of President.