American democracy, the checks and balances, the separation of powers over the three branches of government only work if everyone sticks to the rules.
(01-30-2017, updated 07-13-2018) When you elect a president who doesn’t play by the rules, can he replace American democracy with a dictatorship? Or will the separation of powers protect us — can the legislative branch and the judicial branch hold up against authoritarianism?
The March for Women’s Rights was nice and all, and it’s encouraging to see so many people flock to airports around the country to protest the Muslim ban, but overall I’m extremely pessimistic right now. Many pundits, journalists, bloggers (like me) have been warning against Trump, saying that he would not be a democratic leader, but hey, American democracy will hold. The separation of powers is fool-proof. Not necessarily.
Trump, with Bannon whispering his ideas into his ear, just proved that today. Trump (the executive branch) signed an executive order “temporarily” banning people from seven Muslim countries. A federal judge (judicial branch) ruled it unconstitutional and ordered the Department of Homeland Security to let everyone with a valid visa, green card or other legal entry form into the country. The DHS folks at the international airports were confused, but ultimately they held over 375 people for varying amounts of time (not 109, like Trump claimed), and people were sent back to Syria who had sold everything to come here with their refugee status visas, even though Trump claims that nobody was sent back. I believe that at the moment an unknown number is still being held–the ACLU lawyers are not getting access to everyone affected by the ban.
Today Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer (executive branch) told everyone to abide by the executive order. “They should either get with the program or go,” Spicer said. So he basically told the judicial branch to go fuck themselves and threatened all the bureaucrats’ jobs if they didn’t do what the pussy-grabber-in-chief told them to do. In this economy, how many DHS people do you think are going to make a stand? My guess is few to none. That’s authoritarianism in action.
In Congress (legislative branch) the Democrats are taking a stand, but they’re the minority now, and the GOP is eerily silent, with the exception of a few, most notably Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), two old guys who probably don’t care too much if they don’t get re-elected by Trump’s supporters–they’re overdue for retirement. The younger guys who still want more out of their career, like Paul Ryan (republican speaker of the House and third in line to the presidency), are awfully quiet. So they are not taking the responsibility they have to uphold the separation of powers.
Trump supporters are either jumping for joy or they’re defending him, saying that this is only his first week. Yes, exactly! This is only his first week! Already American democracy is in danger.
I stopped wondering what it would take for the GOP to stand up to Trump after the pussy-grabbing video came out toward the end of the election. Now even Trump thumbing his nose at the federal judges is apparently not enough. A month from now, they’ll be saying, “Well, it’s only been a month”. By then he’ll have told both other branches of government to shut up or leave, and what’s left of the career bureaucrats (the State Department has already been hollowed out to practically nothing) might be in agony, but they’ll still do what he wants if the alternative is unemployment.
And Steve Bannon will sit back, feet on his desk, and think, “Well, that was easy. We need a bigger challenge. Next up: the military.”
(This post was first published on the blog Resident Alien: Being Dutch in America, under the title: “America, Your Democracy Just Got Fired”, 01-30-2017)
Header image: In: Smith, Allan. “Donald Trump is poised to have another rough week”. Business Insider, April 2, 2016 https://finance.yahoo.com/news/donald-trump-poised-another-rough-165442316.html