I’m not the only one who sees the authoritarian bent of our president-elect. While I don’t really expect Trump’s most ardent loyalists to ever see a problem with anything he suggests, I would caution those who are only marginal supporters of the man, along with everybody else, that he should be watched and held accountable, every step of the way.
Evan McMullin, the former CIA operative who entered the race in August and ran as a conservative Independent alternative to Trump, has not backed off one step, and relentlessly pounds away at what he sees as a danger to the American way of life in Trump’s thin-skinned, despotic reactions and proclamations.
McMullin wrote an op-ed for the New York Times on Monday, and it’s pretty awesome.
On July 7, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Donald J. Trump, met privately with House Republicans near the Capitol. I was present as chief policy director of the House Republican Conference. Mr. Trump’s purpose was to persuade the representatives to unite around him, a pitch he delivered in a subdued version of his stream-of-consciousness style. A congresswoman asked him about his plans to protect Article I of the Constitution, which assigns all federal lawmaking power to Congress.
Mr. Trump interrupted her to declare his commitment to the Constitution — even to parts of it that do not exist, such as “Article XII.” Shock swept through the room as Mr. Trump confirmed one of our chief concerns about him: He lacked a basic knowledge of the Constitution.
And that is something I wrote about earlier this morning. House Speaker Paul Ryan has apparently taken it on himself to act as Constitutional tutor to the man the American people are supposed to entrust their freedoms and the well-being of their nation to in one month, and for a minimum of the next four years.
McMullin, whose experience as an operative with the CIA put him in a position to see true authoritarian regimes, up close, sees those same tendencies in Trump, and it worries him.
Much of what has set off the alarms for McMullin are the very things that many of us have been screaming about for months.
He had questioned judicial independence, threatened the freedom of the press, called for violating Muslims’ equal protection under the law, promised the use of torture and attacked Americans based on their gender, race and religion. He had also undermined critical democratic norms including peaceful debate and transitions of power, commitment to truth, freedom from foreign interference and abstention from the use of executive power for political retribution.
There is little indication that anything has changed since Election Day. Last week, Mr. Trump commented on Twitter that flag-burning should be punished by jailing and revocation of citizenship. As someone who has served this country, I carry no brief for flag-burners, but I defend their free-speech right to protest — a right guaranteed under the First Amendment. Although I suspect that Mr. Trump’s chief purpose was to provoke his opponents, his action was consistent with the authoritarian playbook he uses.
I’m no fan of flag burners, either. They’re disgusting and ignorant of the rights they have that that flag represents. That being said, burning a single piece of cloth – that can be mass produced with no problem – isn’t an issue.
The problem is when the government moves in to stop citizens from expressing their opinions, even the loathsome ones, by criminalizing setting that piece of cloth ablaze. More damage is done to American ideals by threatening to jail them or strip flag burners of their citizenship than is done by the flames.
McMullin goes on:
Mr. Trump has said that he prefers to be unpredictable because it maximizes his power. During his recent interview with The New York Times, he casually abandoned his fiery calls during the campaign for torture, prosecuting Hillary Clinton and changing libel laws. Mr. Trump’s inconsistencies and provocative proposals are a strategy; they are intended to elevate his importance above all else — and to place him beyond democratic norms, beyond even the Constitution.
In our nation, power is shared, checked and balanced precisely to thwart would-be autocrats. But as we become desensitized to the notion that Mr. Trump is the ultimate authority, we may attribute less importance to the laws, norms and principles that uphold our system of government, which protects our rights. Most dangerously, we devalue our own worth and that of our fellow Americans.
We must never forget that we are born equal, with basic, natural rights, including those of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Those rights are inherent in us because we are humans, not because they are granted by government. Government, indeed, exists primarily to protect those natural rights; the only legitimate power it has is that which we grant to it.
That is at the core of the issues I have with Trump. He does not recognize the power or the greatness of our system. If he did, he would not have made “Make America Great Again” his campaign mantra.
He has also repeatedly stated – to adoring crowds, no less – that only he could achieve this for our nation.
That’s such a dangerous statement.
In closing his piece, McMullin wrote:
We cannot allow Mr. Trump to normalize the idea that he is the ultimate arbiter of our rights. Those who can will need to speak out boldly and suffer possible retaliation. Others will need to offer hands of kindness and friendship across the traditional political divide, as well as to those who may become targets because of who they are or what they believe. Those who understand the cause are called to the work, which I hope will unify and bless our nation in time.
Well said, Sir. Well said.