Nearly two-and-a-half centuries ago, Alexander Hamilton wrote, “of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people, commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants.” Yet today, hidden beneath the softening chorus of “make America great again” chants and misguided notions of patriotism, lies the signs of a dedicated presidential effort which seeks to dangerously consolidate power in the executive branch, a motive fundamentally toxic to the very essence of the United States.
Draped in red, white, and blue garb, the architects of President Trump’s deceptive message herald the liberties enshrined within our hallowed Constitution, yet support a course of action that actively pursues their erosion. Flying Old Glory and invoking the nostalgic memory of the Founding Fathers, the administration promotes an agenda that stands in defiant opposition to the very principles our iconic statesmen embodied. And in an attempt to conjure patriotic sentiment and nationalistic spirit, they channeled the memory of a powerful commander-in-chief like George Washington, who upon leaving office famously warned the American people about the seductive and expansionist nature of power, stating, “a just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position.”
Since the dawn of his candidacy, Trump and his advisors have diligently implemented a strategic campaign geared to systematically delegitimize any and all opposition to his accumulation of power. In a relatively straightforward, albeit exceptionally abrasive manner, the Trump team capitalized on public angst, readily-identifying the woes experienced by scores of Americans. They constructed a brilliant mosaic that inspired images of a monolithic and tyrannical “establishment” determined to eviscerate the American way of life. When the boilers of division and fear were sufficiently stoked, they dutifully presented themselves as the cure for what ailed the nation, the venerable outsiders destined to tip the scales of power in favor of the people.
The Trump team’s first order of business, a course laid during the campaign, was to assail the legislative branch, then the easiest—if not the safest—initial target for a political insurgency firmly-entrenched in its desire to cast off its checks and balances shackles. Congress itself was essentially cast as a veritable den of corruption and ineptitude, an institutional extension of the elites’ destructive will. Its members who spoke out against the Trump team’s corrosive message were subjected to vicious and unwarranted personal attacks, a vile tactic which aided in the ruination of the legislature’s remaining credibility. Upon taking office, Trump and his supporters have not only dehumanized the oppositional party, but have gone so far as to outright attack and strong-arm allies who haven’t towed the proverbial line.
After incurring the first formal check on its power, the Trump Administration turned its attention to pulverizing the judiciary. Spearheaded by the president himself, the White House ferociously and repeatedly attacked the legitimacy of the federal judiciary by calling an individual dissenting jurist a “so-called” judge, even going so far as to question the intelligence and motives of appellate court judges. Ultimately, the president alleged that the legal system itself was “broken”, and maliciously positioned the judiciary at the forefront of culpability should an act of terrorism befall the United States. Most perniciously of all, the president’s senior policy advisor, Stephen Miller, forcefully-stated on national television that the president’s powers “will not be questioned”, a striking refutation of one of our nation’s founding governmental principles, judicial review.
Clearly unsatisfied with reducing the stature of its perceived rivals in government, the Trump Administration has actively sought to silence its remaining opposition, federal employees—particularly the intelligence community—and the media. Amid an investigation into the potential existence of a concerning relationship between Trump allies and Russian operatives, the administration has opted to funnel its vengeance into purging dissenters, going so far as to threaten, intimidate, discredit, and fire high profile law enforcement officials with impunity, rather than uncovering the truth.
While Trump’s team has long crusaded to undermine the media’s legitimacy, it was only after assuming office that they labeled the independent media as an “enemy of the people” and curtailed its access—raising the possibility of discontinuing White House press briefings. The Trump Administration has even increasingly barred the use of recording equipment during daily press briefings. Even more concerning, is that the president may have effectively attempted to intimidate, if not blackmail, journalists he viewed as adversaries. These are actions which stand in stark contrast to those of Thomas Jefferson, who held that “the only security of all is in a free press.”
James Madison cautioned that “The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.” Yet in open defiance of Madison’s warning, the Trump Administration has shown no indication of returning years of acquiesced power back to the people. Instead, the administration has unsettlingly and demonstrably moved to cast off its constitutionally-imposed chains—the foremost impediment to its usurpation of power—and invest its ill-gotten gains in itself, the executive. And now, we not only have an executive that openly flirts with subverting the rule of law, but one that also seemingly entertains notions of supplanting congressional authority.
Struggling and mesmerized by the promise of a return to an era in American history that never existed, a fictional period whose narrative-driven societal values were contrary to those long preserved within the American conscience, the electorate ushered Donald Trump into the Oval Office. However, after less than two years at the helm, the president has conducted a seminar in executive overreach, one based in dangerous rhetoric and ideology which runs entirely counter to the basic tenets of Americanism. His team has directed a uniquely un-American campaign that routinely deals in falsehoods, unashamedly sacrifices ethics, aggressively promotes calamitous division, and heinously equates dissent with disloyalty or treason.
Many have been persuaded to write-off the Trump Administration’s activities as symptoms of inexperience, arguing that Trump’s multi-year record of controversial political conduct is a purely coincidental medley of ghastly missteps. The grotesque reality is that Trump’s record is not a simplistic collection of unrelated aberrations, but rather, a behavioral trend which appears to be marked more heavily by a tenor of constrained authoritarian impulses than benign unorthodoxy. Its steps appear methodical, far too coordinated and consistent to be dismissed as either clumsy plodding or innocent stumbling.
Samuel Adams famously wrote, “If ever a Time should come, when vain & aspiring Men shall possess the highest Seats in Government, our Country will stand in Need of its experienced Patriots to prevent its Ruin.” The day of tyranny has not yet arrived, but its corrosive echoes can be heard. For a nation born of dissent, its citizens must now exhibit the core requisites of patriotism—a true fidelity to vigilance and an inexhaustible willingness to vocally oppose all that is unjust and unconstitutional.
(Featured image “Hannibal Crossing the Alps“, by Heinrich Leutemann, image is in the public domain/cropped from original.