Being married to an optimist has a lot of advantages. And so as the news erupts from Washington, tweet by tweet – as press conferences and press briefings and Mar-a-Lago cellphone videos ramp up my anxiety – I cling to the hope that my husband is right. That the Constitution will hold, our checks-and-balances system will work, and Congress and the courts will prevent the various disasters I imagine heading our way.
I’m not worried about terrorism or some other out-of-the-blue catastrophic event. I’m worried about a slow leakage of our democracy, an inch-by-inch, protection-by-protection, civil-right-by-civil-right erosion of the laws and principles this country has stood for.
Congress can act as a barrier. And it should. But conservatives are in charge there and many of them, apparently, are happy to go along with the president. It’s early days, of course, but few conservatives have spoken out about the qualifications of Trump’s aides and cabinet choices, his refusal to cut ties to his businesses, his glorification of Vladimir Putin, and his offensive remarks about our allies.
A fair number of members of Congress seem afraid of Trump. Some seem afraid of their conservative constituents. And Trump continues to have a good bit of public support. Millions of people overlooked his bragging about his sexual-assault prowess, his nonsensical claims about what he could achieve, and his own lack of qualifications for office. And those voters don’t seem to be abandoning him yet.
He’s also putting Fox, Breitbart, and other friendly media to work for him – or maybe they’re working in concert; it’s hard to tell. Either way, his allies in the fringe media are helping him spread his deceptions. And they’re helping him keep Americans afraid: afraid of terrorists, of gangs, of immigrants.
People believe him as he insists we’re at great risk from immigrants and visitors from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, when terrorist attacks in the US weren’t by people from those countries. They believe his insistence that the murder rate is the highest it’s been in nearly 50 years, when the opposite is true.
A lot of media are reporting the facts about all this, but we’ve moved into a time when facts don’t matter. And we have a president who is successfully turning the public’s distrust of the media into a personal weapon.
Politifact, citing several research organizations that keep track of gun violence
, says that between 2005 and 2015, more than 300,000 Americans were killed in this country by guns. Almost none were related to terrorism. (Nearly half of America’s gun deaths, in fact, are suicides.)
From 2005 to 2015, there were only about 70 deaths from terrorist attacks, including the Boston Marathon bombings. And some of those attacks were committed by Americans like white supremacist Dylan Roof who had their own American-made agenda.
And yet a Chapman University survey
found that two of Americans’ five biggest fears are a terrorist attack on the country and being a victim of terrorism.
“This is no longer a country in which everybody experiences the same reality,” the Times’ David Brooks wrote recently
Maybe, even with a strong conservative majority, the Supreme Court will help provide the safeguards we need. Maybe other members of Congress will join Senator John McCain in speaking out. (Recommended reading: New York Magazine’s excellent article on McCain
and his thoughts about Trump.) So far, though, the signs aren’t good.
And as dictators have found in the past, Donald Trump is learning that he can continue to shout down the facts and ramp up baseless fear. That in a wave of blind, heated nationalism, he can erode the rights of his citizens, drive away long-time allies, and cozy up to dictators, and the crowds in convention halls and airplane hangars will cheer him on.
We’ve seen this kind of thing before. Different counties, different circumstances, but we’ve seen this kind of thing before.