I’m going to have to suspend business-as-usual. Please stick with me, while I connect some dots to explain how critical this time is for the United States, and, as a corollary, for the world. If you’re reading the news, but not yet marching in the streets, I think this is for you.
Right now, everything counts on Americans who may choose to stand up for our democracy. We’ve been cramming for this exam for months. Now we’ve got our number 2 pencil out, and we’re heading into the exam room. Are we going to pass through this test?
There is a lot going on, but I’d like to point out the central issue at hand.
The United States has three branches of government: Judicial, Legislative, and Executive. There are careful checks and balances on their power, that only work when the people of the country do their jobs. At this moment, people are not doing their jobs, so these checks and balances are not working. If we don’t find a rapid remedy, this will lead to an autocracy run by executive fiat. A dictatorship.
Here is what is happening:
The President of the United States issued an Executive Order. The courts promptly issued a stay, with specific instructions that parts of this Executive Order are not to be implemented. Under US law, this Executive Order should not be implemented. As a legal matter, it’s as clear as a sunny day.
Some employees of the government in US airports, working for Customs and Border Protection, are intentionally and overtly flouting the law. They instead are following the instructions in the Executive Order issued by the President. The Executive has issued a statement that their order is to be implemented regardless of the courts. The courts have said that the order must not be implemented until it has received a full legal review.
In other words, the President is publicly directing his employees to violate the law and to obey his orders and not obey the law. And there are many people in this country who want this to happen.
In our republic, under our Constitution, when it’s The Law vs. The President, the law wins. The authority of courts over the executive in this circumstance was established and accepted very early in our republic, as power transitioned from the Federalist Party to the Democratic-Republican party in the election of 1800. The problem here is that we can’t wait for the Supreme Court to do its thing. By then, Trump’s minions who are overtly obeying illegal Executive Orders may already be running the show.
Once we go down the other road — where the Executive Order becomes enforceable even though the courts have specifically stated that these orders are not legal — we become a dictatorship. It looks like this is a one-way road. Once we allow Trump to have dictatorial power, we won’t recover from this.
This is the exact moment where Trump is claiming dictatorial power. Are we going to allow him to seize it without our greatest resistance?
There is a balance from this kind of overreach, that can be implemented by the Legislative Branch. Our representatives in Congress can refuse to pass budgets that fund an overreaching executive, and they must approve executive appointees. If these things do not suffice, they have the power to impeach the President in the House of Representatives and conflict them in the Senate.
In fact, it is the duty of Congress to impeach the president when he commits high crimes and misdemeanors.
For a little context, a couple decades ago the President was impeached, but not convicted, for lying about sex.
Now, we have a President who is a serial liar about matters of state, receives illegal payments from foreign governments, and has appointed family to government posts. In my mind, these are impeachable offenses. In the eyes of Congress, apparently, they are not. Maybe good people can disagree on those things, though I doubt it.
However, now we have entirely left the realm of any kind of ambiguity. The President has explicitly ordered federal employees to obey his executive orders in the direct contradiction of court orders. The President has overtly declared that he is above the courts.
Congress still can impeach the President. Until they do, we in fact are living in a dictatorship in which Executive Orders are implemented even when they are illegal. Our democracy, at this moment, is lost. If we take to the streets and shut down the country and force our Congress to act — to remove this President for defying the courts — we can probably get it back.
But if you’ve been paying attention, it’s going to take a hell of a lot to get this particular Congress to act. It’s going to take all of us.
We don’t have two years left to wait for another election. Keep in mind, that there clear plans for voter suppression and the next election under a Trump dictatorship will not be a free election. We only have now.
If you want this republic to last, if you have respect for the rule of law, and you want the American Experiment to continue for a couple hundred more years, then you need to work with me in shutting this country down, to compel Congress to act and remove our executive that has no respect for the rule of law.
What can you do? Here are some ideas. If you are a citizen, get yourself to an airport or site of demonstration. If you’re in a very red district area, get on the phone with the staff of your representatives and your senators to let them know that you are asking them to make sure the President follows the law and that you object to this executive overreach. Talk to friends and colleagues on social media who are coordinating protests where you are. (At this writing, my family is at LAX, where the protests have shut down the lower level of the airport. This is a good start, but we need a lot more all over the country to get Congress to take action.) The action will take place in the courts, but the force of the populace is critical at this moment. Please, don’t sit back and let this transpire around you.
The Executive Order that the President claims supersedes judicial review is, in essence, a ban on Muslims from entering this country, depending on country of origin. (Essentially, it’s the Muslim countries where Trump doesn’t have investments.) It is particularly egregious in so many ways. Even if it were lawful, this order would warrant massive protest.
The content of the order is a problem, but the Constitutional Crisis here is that it is unlawful, and Trump is directing local and federal agencies to enforce the order even though the courts have specifically forbidden it. If we let him be a dictator on this, that means he’s our dictator. If our protests grow to be large enough, then Trump will then start issuing more Executive Orders to shut down our protests. Trump is our dictator at the moment, doing things without regard of the law, and the only alternative endgame is Congress taking power away from him. It’s our job to escalate matters until Congress needs to take the reins away. And considering how recalcitrant our Congress has been, that means we’ve got a big job ahead of us. But I know we’re up to it. (Yes, the idea of a President Pence is also a huge problem too, but he probably won’t continue to be a dictator if we shut it down right now. I’d rather have an evil president than a narcissistic despot man-child who will has dismantled the republic and might blow up the world.)
If we don’t protest with all of our might, then we’ll have a dictator. And if we actually end up with the law being enforced, we need to remain eternally vigilant. We have an actual genuine Nazi — Steve Bannon — essentially running the White House.
You don’t want to look back at this moment in history, when a dictator seized power, and regret not protesting hard enough at that moment.
You’re needed to stop this dictatorship. Please step up. We honestly need an uprising if we are going to come out of this okay. It won’t be pretty, but if we don’t rise up, it’ll be even uglier. We need you.
The couch is comfortable, there is a veritable buffet on Netflix, and we have jobs and bills and obligations to people who need us. We have children to raise. That’s precisely why we need to protest with our loudest voice. The people that need us also need the freedom that we have enjoyed, which we are losing this very moment.