Wednesday, November 9, 2016

On the coming disaster

Andrew Sullivan:
He cannot bring millions of jobs back if he triggers a trade war. He cannot build a massive new wall across the entire southern border and get Mexico to pay for it. He cannot deport millions of illegal immigrants, without massive new funding from Congress and major civil unrest. He cannot “destroy ISIS”; his very election will empower it in ways its leaders could not possibly have hoped for. He cannot both cut taxes on the rich, fund a massive new infrastructure program, boost military spending, protect entitlements, and not tip the U.S. into levels of debt even Paul Krugman might blanch at. At some point, a few timid souls in the GOP may mention the concepts of individual liberty or due process or small government or balanced budgets. At some point even his supporters may worry or balk, and his support may fade.
But hope fades in turn when you realize how absolute and total his support clearly is. His support is not like that of a democratic leader but of a cult leader fused with the idea of the nation. If he fails, as he will, he will blame others, as he always does. And his cult followers will take their cue from him and no one else. “In Trump We Trust,” as his acolyte Ann Coulter titled her new book. And so there will have to be scapegoats — media institutions, the Fed, the “global conspiracy” of bankers and Davos muckety-mucks he previewed in his rankly anti-Semitic closing ad, rival politicians whom he will demolish by new names of abuse, foreign countries and leaders who do not cooperate, and doubtless civilians who will be targeted by his ranks of followers and demonized from the bully pulpit itself. The man has no impulse control and massive reserves of vengeance and hatred. In time, as his failures mount, the campaigns of vilification will therefore intensify. They will have to.
And then there will be a terror attack — or several, as he defines the global battle against terror as one against an entire religion and breathes new life into Al Qaeda and ISIS. What he does after such an attack is utterly predictable, given his past statements, and will likely decimate what civil liberties we have left. Then there will be a clash between police and largely black protestors after another unarmed black man is shot. And he will relish a show of massive police force that will inflame this country in ways probably not seen since the 1960s. Then he will reinstate Guantánamo and capture prisoners and torture them until the truth he wants is extracted. That truth will be used to further advance the “war against Islam.” He will make every Muslim American feel afraid — and foment suspicion and hatred among their neighbors. Every single thing we have come to know about this man all but predicts each of these things will come about. All of them portend the end of the America that the world has long known and now must fear.
...what we must seek to preserve are the core institutions that he may threaten — the courts, first of all, even if he shifts the Supreme Court to an unprecedentedly authoritarian-friendly one. Then the laws governing the rules of war, so that war crimes do not define America as their disavowal once did. Then the free press, which he will do all he can to intimidate and, if possible, bankrupt. Then the institutions he will have to destroy to achieve what he wants — an independent Department of Justice as one critical bulwark, what’s left of the FBI that will not be an instrument of his reign of revenge, our scientific institutions, and what’s left of free thought in our colleges and universities. We will need to march peacefully on the streets to face down the massive intimidation he will at times present to a truly free and open society. We have to hold our heads up high as we defend the values of the old republic, even as it crumbles into authoritarian dust. We must be prepared for nonviolent civil disobedience. We must transcend racial and religious division in a movement of resistance that is as diverse and as open as the new president’s will be uniform and closed.
Dahlia Lithwik:
I find myself wondering about the fate of the entire legal apparatus of government—the FBI that Trump has berated constantly on the campaign trail, the career officials at the Justice Department who made noises about quitting en masse if he took office, the generals he has berated and belittled and sworn to undermine. I wonder whether half-floated purges of all political appointees will be realized. Does everyone stay on and do their jobs under a man who is proudly incurious and demonstrably interested only in winning at all costs? Does everyone simply agree to stay on and work their levers, in the hope that they might even mitigate the damage that could be done by one of Trump’s true patriots?
John Roberts was forced to sit by silently this year while they maligned his Supreme Court. Judge Gonzalo Curiel was forced to sit silent when Donald Trump disputed his patriotism. In order to be blind, it seems that justice must also keep silent.
Over and over Tuesday night, as everything that holds itself out as a check or a balance disintegrated, my thoughts turned to Colin Kaepernick and his campaign to take a knee during the playing of the national anthem, an effort to protest systematic racial inequality in America and ongoing policy brutality. His statement—much maligned, especially by President-elect Donald Trump—that this anthem is not his anthem was prescient, as Americans wake up Wednesday morning to try to decide whether this president will be their president and whether his law will be their law.
All night and into Wednesday morning, I have been imagining Hillary Clinton’s concession speech. Does she concede graciously, with a call to her supporters to unify behind a man who has no impulse control and no guiding moral doctrine beyond self-enrichment? Does she concede as though she has lost to a Kasich or a Rubio? Or does she take a knee, and risk openly fracturing a country that is perhaps too fragile to recover?
The asymmetry here was always plain. Trump was either going to win or he was going to dispute his loss and cash in. Clinton, for her part, was always going either to win and to be unable to govern or to lose and concede graciously. If one is unconstrained by consequences and unafraid of normalizing the intolerable, such choices become vastly easier.
For those of us who believe—as the Clintons do—in the basic tenets of constitutional democracy, in respect for the law, and the courts, and for neutral processes, Trump is the end of that line. These words that we use, due process and equality and justice have actual force and meaning. They are the tools and also the end product of the entire enterprise of democracy. They are the only bulwark against totalitarianism we know.
Donald Trump has never seen the law as anything beyond another system for self-enrichment. Judges are tools. Laws are malleable. True justice flows in a singular direction: toward him. And Wednesday the entire edifice of the American legal system answers to that vision, unless it opts not to.
Lawyers are by definition small-c conservative, incrementalist, and cautious. We don’t do revolution if a strongly worded footnote would suffice. We believe in facts. We believe in neutral rules and principles of fairness. We believe in judicial independence. We will be more apt than anyone to try to shift along in Trump’s America, doing our best. Hoping to make it a little more just for the weakest around the margins.
I don’t know how Hillary Clinton—a consummate lawyer, a small-c conservative by temperament and by design—concedes to this regime. I imagine she feels that for the good of the nation, she must. And for the good of the nation, lawyers across the country need to suit up and do the work to minimize the damage Trump can cause. But today, I am taking a knee, in the face of “justice” that bears no resemblance to what is just and the imminent prospect that the rule of law is about to become a machine to grind up the weak and betray the powerless. This is not the rule of law as I understand it. It is the systematic deployment of law to promote one man.

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