I’ve been reading the news with dismay since mid-January. The Trump administration is one assault after another. Lies. Attacks on the judiciary and the mainstream media (these days we need to make a distinction to separate journalism with ethical values from the partisan hacks posing as journalists). Wild exaggerations and fake news (as in a terrorist attack in Sweden).
I have a difficult time with almost all of Trump’s cabinet appointments. I’m glad Puzder withdrew his name for Secretary of Labor as he was hardly a friend to labor. Though I’m not surprised, DeVos should never have been confirmed for Education Secretary. Sessions’ appointment as Attorney General is problematic. Pruitt as head of EPA can best be described as chutzpah. Collectively, this is a billionaires’ club. Will they really understand the lives of the people they serve?
Meanwhile, the GOP has become spineless with all the ferocity of a mouse. Potential conflicts of interest given the president’s financial holdings are overlooked, especially as he has no intent to release his taxes. (and if anyone actually believed he would release his taxes ever … how do you spell gullible?) We already know that with his new hotel in Washington he is violation of the lease with General Services. China just awarded Trump a trademark, which raises questions about violating the Constitution’s emolument’s clause. The GOP has dragged its feet about investigating administration’s ties to Russia and its role in the election. (Of course, if he was a Democrat, the Republicans would be clamoring for impeachment.)
From my perspective all of this is bad news. Public policy will move to the hard and far right. The potential for corruption is very high, if it is not already happening. But that’s not what really bothers me.
We can reset public policy. It takes time and the damage that Trump and the GOP will inflict will last a long while. I’m concerned about our institutional integrity, specifically the judiciary, the mainstream media, and the presidency.
In the wake of the court’s ruling on his travel ban, Trump maligned the judiciary. He didn’t limit his disagreement to the travel ban, but smeared the entire judiciary by implying they are political. He singled out Judge Robart, calling him a “so-called judge..” Let’s not forget that after Judge Curiel ruled against him in the Trump University case, Trump accused him of bias because of his Mexican ancestry even though he was born in the United States.
His ongoing accusations of the mainstream media as promulgators of “fake news” and his staff treating it as the enemy, undermines the mainstream media’s authority to hold the government accountable.
The judiciary and the mainstream media are two institutions to hold the executive accountable to the people. The public has to have confidence in them in order to hold the executive’s actions in check.
However, both of these institutions have suffered damage over many years. The most visible affirmation of the court being political was the Senate’s refusal to hold a hearing last year for Judge Merrick Garland in order to preserve the empty seat for a conservative despite that no Republican had anything bad to say about him. We’ve also heard comments such as “justices should not legislate from the bench.” Meanwhile the mainstream media has been accused for years of a liberal bias and that Fox News has become blatantly conservative.
When the president uses his office to attack these institutions, he implicitly gives permission for the public to treat these institutions in similar fashion. Simply put, “If the president can’t trust these institutions, why should I?”
Finally, the presidency itself is under assault. His blatant falsehoods, his wild accusations, his personal attacks, all demean the office. We can disagree on every policy a president proposes, but we have to trust that the president makes decisions with integrity. As Trump, however, continues to harp on his election win by overstating his margin of victory and citing falsely millions of illegal votes for Clinton, he damages his credibility. When he tries to say the travel ban did not target Muslims when his campaign rhetoric and Guiliani’s words said otherwise, how can he be trusted? Citing Islamic terrorist attacks in Sweden, raises questions about his grasp of the world events.
We can say that he is only damaging himself, but over time he will damage the presidency because his actions will prompt people across this nation and around the world to wonder how someone so unfit for the office can occupy it. Doesn’t that diminish the office?
As a member of the clergy, we understand the awesome responsibility that comes with our ministry. Though we can say forcefully how we feel about particular issues from the pulpit, we are also mindful that our words spoken from that position of authority carry exceptional weight. If we lie, personally attack someone, spew “alternate facts,” or do much of what Trump has displayed already, especially at Thursday’s press conference, those would be grounds for dismissal. It should be no less for the President of the United States.