It has been a long couple of weeks for those of us who view Donald Trump’s ascendance to the office of President of the United States as one of the worst and most frightening political developments of our lifetimes. And it is going to an even longer four (or eight, or however many) years.
The world’s greatest economic and military force is now being led by a belligerent, unpredictable narcissist with little apparent grasp of the complexities and nuances of leadership or policy. He is, rather, a man who approaches governance through bullying and has the childish preoccupations of a seven-year-old.
To the extent that there is any coherence to the various machinations of his new administration, they seem to be being directed by much more cunning and knowledgeable individuals ranging from the arch-conservative Vice President Mike Pence to the far-right extremist (I, for one, refuse to use the legitimizing neologism “alt-right”) senior advisor Steve Bannon.
To complete the perfect storm, the world of fact and fiction, truth and opinion has been completely turned upside down. Gone are the “good old days” when political discourse was characterized by spirited but relatively high-minded debate about whether tax cuts boosted economic growth, or whether interventionist military action brought peace or instability.
Right now we can’t even agree on such basic factual matters as the approximate size of the crowds that attended Trump’s inauguration. The social phenomena that have taken place ancillary to Trump’s rise — including the rise of “fake news,” the emboldening of the racist, authoritarian portion of the right, and the development of a post-truth political culture of false equivalencies and poorly evaluated “evidence” — are just as frightening as the electoral outcome itself.
Those of us who are perplexed by these recent developments are often told by Trump supporters — between gloats about having “won” — that “we” simply don’t “get it.”
But it seems more likely that his supporters — and I’m referring here to the more well-meaning ones who may like Donald Trump from Celebrity Apprentice and watch Fox News but don’t necessarily read Breitbart or use white supremacist mascot Pepe the Frog as their Twitter avatar — who don’t understand what they have gotten themselves and the rest of us into.
The disturbing developments since Jan. 20 have come so rapidly that it would be impossible to catalogue them all here. The administration hit a new low, however, over the past weekend when it announced its sweeping travel ban ostensibly aimed at nationals of seven predominantly Muslim countries.
Some of Trump’s supporters will argue that it is not a “Muslim ban” because neither the words “Muslim” nor “Islam” appear in the text of the executive order. But this is just another example of them living in world of alternative facts — unless of course you really believe that no one ever lies about their intentions or finds a roundabout way to accomplish more sinister goals.
There is plenty of evidence that this ban is directed squarely at one particular religious group. By far the most damning piece of evidence is the fact that Trump himself said during the campaign that he’d implement just such a ban. That this ban bears such curious resemblance to that promise is no coincidence. Trump confidant Rudy Giuliani also told reporters that Trump asked him to come up with a way to do a Muslim ban legally and this is what he came up with. To date the administration has not specifically denied or repudiated Giuliani’s statement.
There is also the awkward fit between the scope of the ban itself and its purported goal of enhancing security. Notably absent from the list of countries covered were the places of origin of the 9/11 hijackers. There is no evidence of any specific threats that gave rise to this move, nor was there any attempt to limit its scope to avoid unnecessarily harming legitimate travelers asylum seekers — as there was when then President Obama temporarily banned certain classes of Iraqis from entry into the United States a few years back.
Given all the surrounding context, it seems unlikely that any of this had anything to do with security. The ban was crafted to allow the administration to deny its intentions to those not quite ready to stomach a ban aimed explicitly at Muslims. But make no mistake. This was an orchestrated step to begin the gradual process of eroding norms that have governed how we treat human beings in modern history — that we don’t single out religious groups for differential, adverse treatment.
The administrations shocking behavior over the past weekend didn’t end there. There were various reports of border patrol officers refusing to comply with numerous court orders blocking the implementation of the policy. And Republican Senator Marco Rubio claims to have been told by bureaucrats that they had been ordered not to provide any information to congressional officials.
Historical comparisons are always tricky because, whatever the similarities, there are always enough differences between this and that regime to deny they are sufficiently comparable.
But all of this — the belligerence, the scapegoating of minorities, the erosion of checks and balances, the delegitimizing of democratic institutions, and the extremes of propaganda — are eerily reminiscent of movies we’ve seen before. Readers can draw their own, more direct, comparisons if they wish but suffice to say that the Trump administration bears the hallmarks of authoritarian regimes we have seen in the past.
America is going to a dark place, fast. And we are only just getting started. So buckle up.
Kyle Carruthers is a born-and-raised Yukoner who lives and practises law in Whitehorse.