Supporters of President Donald Trump’s executive order blocking admission of Syrian refugees and suspending immigration from seven Muslim-majority nations don’t just argue his right to do so. They consider it his sworn duty. “We need to deal with reality and protect the American people,” wrote a friend on social media. “This is the number one job of the President of the United States.”
But, is it?
Consider the oath of office taken by Mr. Trump as required of every President by Article II of the US Constitution:
“I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
So, why are Trump’s supporters so urgently seeking protection? Answers are strewn across the landscape of the 2016 campaign, but his acceptance speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention is a good place to start. Painting a dark, bleak portrait of America in the 21st Century, the newly tapped nominee pulled no punches:
“I have a message for all of you: The crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon — and I mean very soon — come to an end. Beginning on January 20th 2017, safety will be restored. The most basic duty of government is to defend the lives of its citizens. Any government that fails to do so is a government unworthy to lead.”
During 75 minutes of what New York Times conservative columnist David Brooks called “humorless shouting,” Trump told Americans: “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.” His full remarks referenced the Constitution only once, promising: “We are going to appoint justices of the United States Supreme Court who will uphold our laws and our Constitution.” By contrast, the speech featured four references to “law and order,” five to “police,” and seven to “crime.”
Domestic law and order and policing are powers of the states – not the federal government – under our Constitution. But, people scared to death readily trade freedom for security. Donald Trump knows that, and Chief Strategist Steve Bannon does too.
Given the Trump administration’s defiance of federal court orders to halt the immigration ban, the lack of prior consult with impacted agencies, and the President’s firing of the Acting Attorney General who raised Constitutional concerns, is he really interested in upholding the Constitution?
Through repeated attacks on the campaign trail, Trump has convinced followers worrying about the constitutionality of his actions is nothing more than “political correctness.” And, those who protest are “snowflakes.”
Their authoritarian tendencies are well documented, but Trump and Bannon offer a bargain much like a mobster’s protection racket. That’s something Trump would have some familiarity with, based on past business dealings, as reported by media outlets as diverse as the Wall Street Journal and Mother Jones.
Create an atmosphere of chaos rife with real or perceived threats to law and order, erode the credibility of government institutions to handle those threats, and then position yourself as the only one capable of defending the vulnerable – at a staggering, never-ending cost.
And protests only serve to further that agenda. As formed George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum writes in a chilling piece for the February issue of The Atlantic on “How to Build an Autocracy“:
“Civil unrest will not be a problem for the Trump presidency. It will be a resource. Trump will likely want not to repress it, but to publicize it—and the conservative entertainment-outrage complex will eagerly assist him. Immigration protesters marching with Mexican flags; Black Lives Matter demonstrators bearing antipolice slogans—these are the images of the opposition that Trump will wish his supporters to see. The more offensively the protesters behave, the more pleased Trump will be.”
Picking up where he left off in July, Trump doubled-down on his hellish indictment of modern America in his Inaugural address. He alluded once again to crime, gangs, drugs, and unprotected borders, saying “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”
Not that crime and immigration aren’t legitimate concerns, but the President grossly overstates the situation and blurs facts to stoke fear and inflate his role as Protector in Chief. Trump’s dystopian rants notwithstanding, violent crime rates in America have been declining for decades. And, while he wants you to quiver in fear of “bad dudes” crossing our borders, you are three times more likely to die from a lightning strike than by a terrorist attack. There is a 105X greater risk you’ll take your own life by suicide, and no immigration ban can prevent that.
Let’s be clear: one violent crime is too many. No terror attack is acceptable. Tradeoffs would be a complex and difficult topic worthy of honest discussion, but Trump has convinced backers to give no heed to the cost side of the equation.
Of course, Americans want to be safe, but, as with the protection racket, the security Trump peddles comes at an insidious price. This President and his inner circle want you to believe he – and he alone — can save you. He wants you to believe compromising Constitutional rights is a small price to pay for safety. And so far, from what I’ve seen, a majority of his supporters are ready and willing to strike that bargain.
If the President of the United States will not preserve, protect, and defend our Constitution, who will?