Saturday, January 20, 2018

To Make America Great, Trump Has to Go

      One year into the Trump presidency, America is not "great again," but divided at home and diminished abroad. The president's actions and statements have reduced the United States' global leadership, eroded democracy at home, weakened the country's commitment to economic and social justice, encouraged racial and religious bigotry, and deepened the ethical swamp that he promised to drain.
      These conclusions emerge in year-one assessments from, among other organizations, the respected nonpartisan human rights group Freedom House. The group's annual report, released this week [Jan. 16], paints a picture of democracy in serious crisis worldwide and endangered in the United States accompanied by a blistering critique of President Trump's policies.
      With democracy already in retreat, Freedom House blamed Trump for "the accelerating withdrawal of the United States from its historical commitment to promoting and supporting democracy." Far from promoting democracy, Trump has "expressed feelings of admiration and even personal friendship for some of the world's most loathsome strongmen and dictators" — Russia's Vladimir Putin and Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte by name.
      In the United States itself, Freedom House also found an accelerating decline in political rights and civil liberties based on a rare three-point drop from 89 to 86 in its scoring system within a single year. Trump was accused of using attacks on the media and the judiciary to threaten their legitimacy. The report cited the "pressure" on those institutions in listing the United States among 10 countries that face "turning points in their democratic trajectory" during the coming year.
      Domestic civil rights and civil liberties groups were even more dispirited in their one-year assessments. Sherilynn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, described Trump's first year as "an affront to civil rights." Ifill's article cited, among other policies, the Justice Department's reversals in key voting rights cases, including federal court challenges to Texas's voter ID law and Ohio's aggressive deregistration of inactive voters. With police and minority community relations tense in many cities, Ifill also noted Attorney General Jeff Sessions's decision to stop monitoring local police departments for violations of constitutional or civil rights.
      Trump's men at Justice, Sessions and Solicitor General Noel Francisco, also worked to diminish or challenge LGBT rights through the year, as detailed in a downcast report by the Boston-based Fenway Institute. The solicitor general's office argued in a critical Supreme Court case for giving some commercial businesses the right to discriminate against LGBT individuals based on religious or moral objections — for example, to same-sex weddings. The report also noted the administration's rescission of the Education Department policy that public schools allow transgender pupils to use bathrooms or locker room facilities based on their gender identity.
      Beyond these policy retreats, the administration has also contributed to increased religious, racial, and ethnic intolerance — most notably, in the federal court-blocked ban on travel to the United States by people from half a dozen predominantly Muslim countries. Trump has demonizied and denigrated immigrants from Mexico, Central America, and other "shithole countries." Worse, he has given aid and comfort to white supremacists by saying, after the violent confrontation with civil rights forces in Charlottesville, Va., that there were "good people on both sides."
      Trump's supporters and apologists answer this critique by pointing to his appointment of federal judges, including Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. But Gorsuch and the record first-year pace of judicial appointments bode ill for equal justice in the long term. None of the Trump judges shows much sympathy for the courts' role in protecting civil rights, and several have records of overt hostility to LGBT rights. At the Supreme Court, Gorsuch dissented from a decision to protect married lesbian couples' ability to list both women as parents on a child's birth certificate.
      Trump's defenders also cite the relatively good economic times as evidence of his success in office. But the job growth that Trump touts is actually the slowest since 2010 and wage growth has likewise been slow. In a setback for economic justice, the trillion-dollar tax cut that Trump pushed through the Republican-controlled Congress bestows most of its benefits on well-to-do taxpayers at the expense of future generations. The year-long fight over Obamacare may end with millions thrown off health insurance. Other deregulatory initiatives have reduced protections for workers, consumers, investors, and the environment.
      Meanwhile, the watchdog group Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW) labeled Trump's first year "the most unethical presidency" in U.S. history. Trump's very presence in the White House, with business interests undisclosed and undivested, amounts to an ongoing violation of the Constitution's Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses, an issue that CREW is litigating in court. CREW's report notes the conflict of interest in Trump's 100-plus visits to Trump properties and the even more unsavory conflicts in the appointment of industry insiders to executive branch posts regulating their former industries.
      Trump has no interest in changing any of these policies, so the country will move again toward greatness only with a new president. Unfortunately, the two constitutional methods for removing him — the 25th Amendment or impeachment — lack political support even though most Americans disapprove of Trump's performance. A nation divided and diminished looks anxiously to the future with the very idea of America under severe stress as the Huckster in Chief makes empty promises to make America "great again." Fittingly, Trump's first year ends today [Jan. 20] with a partial government shutdown as the self-styled dealmaker balks at any bipartisan compromise to resolve the growing impasse between Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill.

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