01.29.2017
  • United States

The Opposition Is Born

Trump thinks he can do what he’s doing now because no one will stop him. He's wrong.

A photo from Dulles International Airport in Virginia last night. Geoff Livingston / Flickr

1.

Rousseau thought that in a real democracy, each person would be so concerned with the fate of the republic that at any sign of a problem, she’d “fly to the assemblies” to make things right. Yesterday she flew to the airports.

2.

It is absolutely too soon to predict anything at all, but Trump’s executive order regarding immigrants and refugees has generated so much protest and pushback that it has already generated cracks in the Republican Party.

Trump’s people are not as all-powerful and invulnerable as they seem. Quite the contrary. Remember: Donald Trump wasn’t just rejected by the majority of this country. He was also rejected in the primaries by the majority of his party: 55.1 percent of the Republican electorate voted against him!

This is not a steamroller. Reagan faced opposition — most notably, the PATCO strike — and he simply pressed forward to crush it. These people are different. They’re not as in control, not as confident in their purpose or their purchase on the nation. The more astute among them know that they don’t have the country, they know that their ideas, which used to lend them and their followers and even their detractors so much buoyancy, don’t resonate or register the way they once did.

Again, I’m not making any predictions. One day you’re up, the next you’re down. Trump could turn this to his favor, declaring a national emergency, sending in troops to keep the airports free and clear. Since the election, the major contingency that has worried me most has been has been international politics: that is a sphere that is always unpredictable, and wars happen. The latest news out of China doesn’t make me feel any better.

But if this is what this executive order has launched — just outside his first week in office — what happens when they start throwing people into the streets to die without health insurance?

Call me a cockeyed optimist, but I simply refuse to believe we are the country we were as recently as fifteen years ago.

3.

Had Reagan or Bush issued this executive order—I know, the ideological valence on immigration was different for both them, but hear me out—there would have been tremendous planning in advance, and every airport in the country would have been surrounded by a perimeter of National Guard, local police, even federal troops. There would have been top-to-bottom, Cheney to Rumsfeld, advance men, designing a security fence as secure as that which surrounds the White House. People wouldn’t be able to get in without pre-registration and elaborate ID checks and so on.

Instead, we got not only what we saw outside, in the streets and at the airports, not only what we saw in the courts, but this:

When President Donald Trump declared at the Pentagon Friday he was enacting strict new measures to prevent domestic terror attacks, there were few within his government who knew exactly what he meant.

Administration officials weren’t immediately sure which countries’ citizens would be barred from entering the United States. The Department of Homeland Security was left making a legal analysis on the order after Trump signed it. A Border Patrol agent, confronted with arriving refugees, referred questions only to the President himself, according to court filings.

Trump’s unilateral moves, which have drawn the ire of human rights groups and prompted protests at US airports, reflect the President’s desire to quickly make good on his campaign promises. But they also encapsulate the pitfalls of an administration largely operated by officials with scant federal experience.

Asked during a photo opportunity in the Oval Office Saturday afternoon about the rollout, Trump said his government was “totally prepared.”

“It’s working out very nicely,” Trump told reporters. “You see it at the airports. You see it all over. It’s working out very nicely and we’re going to have a very, very strict ban, and we’re going to have extreme vetting, which we should have had in this country for many years.”

The policy team at the White House developed the executive order on refugees and visas, and largely avoided the traditional interagency process that would have allowed the Justice Department and homeland security agencies to provide operational guidance, according to numerous officials who spoke to CNN on Saturday.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Department of Homeland Security leadership saw the final details shortly before the order was finalized, government officials said.

Friday night, DHS arrived at the legal interpretation that the executive order restrictions applying to seven countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan and Yemen — did not apply to people who with lawful permanent residence, generally referred to as green card holders.

The White House overruled that guidance overnight, according to officials familiar with the rollout. That order came from the President’s inner circle, led by Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon. Their decision held that, on a case by case basis, DHS could allow green card holders to enter the US.

Now while some will argue that the spectacle and the chaos are all part of the point, I’m not persuaded. Trump wants displays of power; instead, he got a display of powerlessness.

These guys were completely caught off guard. They didn’t know enough to get the cooperation in advance of governors like Cuomo, who’s ultimately responsible for the Port Authority along with Christie, and who decided to allow the protestors to keep going through AirTrain to get to JFK. And how could they: even with the White House, they weren’t sure what they were doing till they were doing it.

It’s not just that the White House is filled with incompetents; it’s not just that they’re flying by the seat of their pants. The lack of planning, the agitated implementation, the incompetence (seriously, Reagan and Bush attracted genuine talent, even if it wasn’t always on display [see Iraq]): it’s all a symptom of a lack of political coherence.

4.

What is the first thing fascists or Nazis do when they come into power, the very first thing? They destroy the Left.

Before they go after the Jews, as in Germany, before they go after the liberals and anyone who is not a fascist, before they go after national minorities, they arrest, imprison, torture, and murder the communists, the socialists, and the trade unions. Because they know that in order to pursue their maximal agenda, they need to drain the field of all opposition.

Trump hasn’t done that; in fact, he’s done just the opposite.

Now you could say that the reason Trump hasn’t done that is that there is no real left to do it to. Trump thinks he can do what he’s doing now because no one will stop him. I actually think there is something to that argument. And one could see how, from the point of view of a conservative or Republican activist, the last forty years would suggest that you have little to worry about from the left: not from the activist left and certainly not from the Democrats. I think the facts on the ground with regard to the Left has begun to change, slowly, but knowledge of the world is path dependent, and changes like this take a long time to register, particularly when you’re in an ideological bubble. Look how long it took Democrats and the Left to realize that Reagan was for real and here to stay.

That is why I don’t buy the notion that somehow yesterday’s events, with all the opposition at the airports and the imposition of a stay, was part of a grand plan. I think they have no idea what they might be facing from the left. And let’s be honest: neither do we.

Whatever the case may be, the point is this: If Trump is a fascist — I’m dubious, as many of you know — he may be the most backasswards fascist we’ve ever seen. Having seized control of the state, he doesn’t destroy his opposition in order to pursue his maximal agenda. Instead, he creates an opposition — what may be shaping up as the largest mass movement this country has seen in fifty years — by pursuing his maximal agenda first.

5.

Yesterday felt like our color revolution. Not one color. Every color.