I think it’s safe to say that Trump’s first week in office has been something of a roller-coaster. First we had the gloom of inauguration day, followed by the elation of the worldwide women’s protests, and now, several days later, a string of shocking executive orders as Trump puts most of his odious campaign promises into practice.
The most alarming of these is also the most recent: the “extreme vetting” measures put into place to prevent wily terrorists from entering America, which are widely being described by the far more accurate name of a (supposedly temporary) Muslim ban. Green card holders whose permanent residence is in the USA and who happened to have the bad luck to be out of the country are now being denied re-entry; people are being detained at airports; America’s refugee program has been all but suspended except for cases of religious discrimination (it doesn’t take a particularly large leap to imagine that this will be used to exclusively permit Christians from Muslim-majority countries); even the upcoming Oscars have been effected, with Iranian nominee Asghar Farhadi no longer able to enter the country.
Meanwhile, Trump’s other campaign bugbear–illegal immigration–is being dealt with in just as heavy-handed a fashion. The border wall is apparently actually going to go forward, at a cost of over $10 billion (which will be paid for, not by Mexico but by a tax on Mexican imports), sanctuary cities are going to be defunded, deportations will increase, and a weekly list of crimes committed by immigrants will apparently be published. Oh, and it will be illegal for US citizens to assist undocumented immigrants.
Against all of this, the Trump administration gagging EPA and national park employees from discussing topics of scientific interest with the public doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it’s possibly the most frightening development of all…as well as a potential reason for hope.
In these posts I’ve tried to balance a deliberately alarmist tone–reasoning that it’s better to be safe than sorry–with a degree of skepticism and realism. I can no longer take that second approach. The worst possible version of Trump’s presidency is coming to pass, and it’s happening with terrifying speed.
This is Germany right after the ascension of the Nazis. These are the tumultuous days when an authoritarian regime blindsides a confused public and tightens its grip, the brief window before the erosion of freedom becomes impossible to stop. I say that with no hyperbole. All of the warning signs are there. This has happened before, and it’s happening again, right now. I focused on the silencing of government employees because I see it as a test case. Trump’s government is gagging state scientists and park employees because they know that the public, who largely see science as inscrutable and incomprehensible, and many of whom have been thoroughly poisoned against conservation and environmental protection, won’t notice or care.
But mark my words, it won’t be long before other state agencies are being required to pass their findings through politicians before they can be made available to the public. This will go hand in hand with Trump’s assault on the media, something that he has openly promised in retaliation for their negative coverage of his inauguration. Soon–very soon–the government will have complete control over the flow of information about their own activities. Once that happens, the descent becomes very hard to stop. Misinformation and lies will become harder and harder to refute or even notice.
But there is a chance to stop this. The silencing of certain government employees was rolled back slightly after a public outcry. That tells us that the new administration isn’t entirely confident yet. They know they don’t have the public on board the way they need to, and they’re still scared of push-back. That means we have a chance to resist.
But that resistance can’t be safe or polite. Uplifting, organized protests where no one gets arrested aren’t going to cut it. The events of the last few days call for mass civil disobedience and disturbance, and even that may not be enough.
Again, in case I haven’t been clear: we are talking about a matter of months, possibly even weeks. We’re not waiting for the midterms any more. The midterms might not happen. I am deadly serious about that. If you don’t believe me, if you think that sounds hysterical, then take a look at the history of the last 100 years and tell me the parallels aren’t there.
It’s happened before. There is no reason–absolutely no reason at all–why it can’t happen again.