Sorry, but I’ve gotta rage for a bit, because many people are missing the bigger picture.
Today we mourn the horrifying terrorist attack in New York City, just blocks away from the site of the World Trade Center. A man drove a truck into a pedestrian bike path and murdered eight people, and injured very, very seriously at least 11 more. […]
My administration is coordinating closely between federal and local officials to investigate the attack and to further investigate this animal who did the attacking. And updates will be provided as available. […]
We want a merit-based program where people come into our country based on merit. And we want to get rid of chain migration. This man that came in — or whatever you want to call him — brought in, with him, other people. And he was a point — he was the point of contact — the primary point of contact for — and this is preliminarily — 23 people that came in, or potentially came in with him. And that’s not acceptable. So we want to get rid of chain migration, and we’ve wanted to do that for a long time. And I’ve been wanting to do it for a long time. And we’ll be asking Congress to start working on it immediately. […]
That was a horrible event, and we have to stop it, and we have to stop it cold. We also have to come up with punishment that’s far quicker and far greater than the punishment these animals are getting right now. They’ll go through court for years. And at the end, they’ll be — who knows what happens.
Trump said that a few days ago, sans the bolding. The president of the United States openly dehumanized a murder suspect, probably on the basis of his skin colour and religion, and yet the primary focus of media reports has been on visas, dual standards, hypocrisy, or pretty much anything else. Have we all forgotten about the toxic effects of dehumanization and its tendency to promote hatred and violence? Has two years of this shifted the Overton window so far that “dog megaphones” don’t even register as noteworthy?
I might have stayed silent, except this isn’t an isolated case. Take this from the same news conference:
We need quick justice and we need strong justice — much quicker and much stronger than we have right now. Because what we have right now is a joke and it’s a laughingstock. And no wonder so much of this stuff takes place. And I think I can speak for plenty of other countries, too, that are in the same situation. […]
Q Mr. President, do you want the assailant from New York sent to Gitmo?
THE PRESIDENT: I would certainly consider that, yes.
Q Are you considering that now, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: I would certainly consider that. Send him to Gitmo — I would certainly consider that, yes.
To be absolutely crystal clear on this, the president of the United States was saying the justice system of his own country is ineffectual, to the point that he is weighing in on matters of justice and basic fundamental rights. This isn’t a one-off, either, let’s take to his Twitter feed:
Sorry for sounding like a broken record, but I have to emphasize this: the executive branch of the United States is attempting to dictate what the judicial branch of the US should do. Repeatedly. This violates the right of the accused to a fair trial, which has already had concrete effects.
President Trump’s harsh criticism of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who walked off his Army post in Afghanistan in 2009 and was captured by the Taliban, will weigh in favor of a lighter sentence for the sergeant, a military judge said on Monday. “I will consider the president’s comments as mitigation evidence as I arrive at an appropriate sentence,” the judge, Col. Jeffery R. Nance of the Army, said during a hearing at Fort Bragg. The judge is expected to sentence Sergeant Bergdahl in the next few weeks.
The judge rejected a request that he dismiss the case or cap the length of the sentence on the grounds that the president’s comments had precluded a fair hearing. The judge said he had not been influenced by the remarks and that the public’s confidence in the military justice system had not been undermined.
This has the potential to become a vicious spiral: Trump angrily tweets inflammatory and dehumanizing statements about someone, the judicial system lightens sentences or rules that makes a fair trial impossible, which angers Trump more. These are not the acts of a president, but a dictator.
The President is saying that he would like to interfere in ongoing investigations. He is saying that he would like to order up investigations of his political opponents. He is announcing that he is a corrupt actor who does not believe in the rule of law. He is a man who is capable of firing his FBI Director because he will not aid him in these endeavors and to threaten his [Attorney General] and his [Deputy Attorney General] and the special counsel over the inconveniences they pose him. Even as I type this, he is tweeting about how DOJ should be investigating Clinton. (For example: https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/926403023861141504…) In these comments, he is announcing frankly how badly he wants to corrupt the DOJ.
And yet, he is “frustrated.” Why? […] It’s because the norm of independent law enforcement—which he is menacing—is actually strong enough to constrain him—at least right now. It’s strong enough that he can fulminate all he wants about investigating Clinton and still Mueller does his job, and the FBI does its job, and the men and women of the DOJ do their jobs, and none of their jobs, as our democratic polity has determined them, is to fulfill his undemocratic ambitions to loose investigators on people he doesn’t like and to have the Justice Department protect him. It’s a stunning statement of presidential constraint: A president actually saying that he aspires to corrupt interference with law enforcement and can’t pull it off. Let it warm your heart. It sure warms mine.
Alas, Benjamin Wittes, it instead chills mine. Trump has so eroded democratic norms that he can dehumanize people and act like a dictator without facing immediate consequence. Instead, our best hope is that the judicial branch isn’t corrupted too quickly before the 2018 midterms, when the Democrats will hopefully gain a House majority and stay steady in the Senate and thus gain enough leverage to start impeachment proceedings.
That’s a lot of future hope to deal with an immediate problem. This should not be the norm. And yet, it appears to be.