Jill Filipovic: Trump, allies deadening us to how much US democracy is being weakened
Stories make us want to bury our faces in our hands and mutter, "this cannot be happening"
Editor’s Note: Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in New York and Nairobi, Kenya, and the author of the new book “The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness.” Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
It seems that every other day there’s a new story out that makes us want to bury our faces in our hands and mutter, “this cannot be happening.”
President Trump’s friend Christopher Ruddy, the CEO of Newsmax Media – has suggested that the Trump may now terminate Robert Mueller, the special counsel appointed to lead the FBI investigation into the Trump team’s Russia ties.
Never mind that there’s no corroboration of Ruddy’s statement and lots of reasons to think it would be political suicide for Trump to fire the widely respected Mueller, who’s investigating whether Trump campaign officials were in collusion with the Russians. The mere fact that we can take seriously that this course of action might be contemplated by Trump is a sign of how far down the road we have come to the weakening of US democracy.
The biggest problem, of course, is Trump, who seems happy to mold himself into a brassier American version of Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong Un. But this is a problem enabled by the GOP and right-wing media, too.
Trump’s sycophants are doing their part to lay the groundwork for such a stunning move. In a particularly North Korean touch – or, depending on your perspective, one reminiscent of mandatory compliments teachers force their kindergartners to dole out – Trump also convened members of his Cabinet around a big wooden table and so they could each say something nice about his presidency in front of the press. Trump himself started, declaring himself one of the most accomplished leaders the United States has ever seen. And then one by one, the adult men and women (although mostly men) sitting around him heaped praise on the President, deeming themselves “privileged” to have the “great honor” and “blessing” to serve him.
The President then refused to answer any questions from the media.
What a pathetic, humiliating spectacle. And what a degrading moment for each person sitting around that table – not just that they were asked to participate in such a ridiculously obsequious endeavor, but that they gladly obliged. It’s almost Shakespearean, to see a buffoonish leader filled with this much braggadocio, surrounded by fawning yes-men. If only any member of his court had the spine and the sense to hold him to account or mention the public’s growing doubts about their agenda. If only any member of his court would refuse to cover for him when he defames or fires the few people willing, able and obligated to hunt for the truth about his questionable campaign and untrustworthy presidency.
But if so, we wouldn’t have this: A President who appears hell-bent on securing himself absolute power; a moneyed and sophisticated propaganda machine (including outfits like Ruddy’s, along with Breitbart and others) that routinely veers into conspiracy theory territory but still gets invited to the White House; and one of our country’s two major parties either looking the other way or actively working to prop up his failing autocratic regime.
No man can do alone what Trump is doing. In a saner world, where politicians cared about civil service and their obligations to serve in the best interests of nation and their constituents, we would have policy disagreements, no doubt. But instead of talking about policy – like Trump ending a program set up to help vulnerable women and children seeking asylum, for instance – the momentum is happening around discrediting investigations and taking public curtain calls.
And if you look closely, you can see the wheels in motion – the conservative pundits setting Mueller up to be knocked down, the congressional Republicans nodding along, Trump’s Cabinet members patting him on the head and assuring him he’s been a good boy. In the meantime, the most important building blocks of American democracy are crumbling – public trust in our institutions, at least the pretense of honesty and fairness in journalism, our balance of powers, the need for informed and independent investigators to be able to check executive authority.
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In any society, you will find men who are power-hungry and happy to rule with an iron fist. The difference is that in democratic societies, there are institutions and rules in place to keep them from doing so. But we need the individuals within those institutions to do their part to uphold them, and to see being a bulwark against tyranny a necessary part of their civil service and professional obligations. Conservative media and politicians have fallen down on this task. And when this all inevitably unravels, history will be as unkind to them as it will be to our current president. They deserve it.