Last November, as the presidential campaign season wound down, President Barack Obama, speaking at a rally for Hillary Clinton, found himself confronted by a man peacefully holding up a sign promoting Donald Trump. When the crowd heckled the man, Obama calmed and then admonished the crowd, defending the protester’s right to free speech in America. He urged the crowd, not to boo, but to vote, to actually partake in democracy.
Donald Trump’s treatment of protester’s at his rallies, you may recall, stood in stark contrast to Obama’s encouragement of democratic process. He infamously incited his supporters to remove protesters, violently if necessary, offering to pay their legal fees if sued.
The bottom-line policy for Trump? Dissent is not allowed and must be suppressed by any means necessary.
This behavior on the campaign trail certainly prefigured his administration’s modus operandi, as evidenced by the series of unfortunate events of the last week.
For example, as disconcerting, if not horrifying, as Trump’s effective Muslim ban was, equally troubling was the administration’s reaction to conventional expressions of disagreement carefully and intentionally enabled, encouraged, and protected in the structures of our democratic government.
As Sean Colarossi reported in the pages of Paul Krugman has pointed out, the Trump administration’s willingness to entertain and give voice to the possibility of implementing a 20% tax on Mexican imports to pay for the infamous wall, underscored the administration’s flouting and complete ignorance of rules and treaties already in place and established through negotiation and deliberation nationally and internationally. Krugman explains,
“International trade policy is governed by rules — originally the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade [GATT], now folded into the WTO [World Trade Organization]. A key part of these rules is that countries agree NOT to just impose new tariffs or import quotas unilaterally. So if the US just goes ahead and imposes a 20 percent tariff on Mexico, it has in effect repudiated the whole system (which it built!).”
Trump simply shows no regard for rules or decisions arrived at through collective and diplomatic deliberation. We are seeing in full force the problems of Trump’s temperament raised in the campaign. It threatens deliberative democracy itself.
When James Madison penned Federalist Paper No. 10, he underscored the importance of representatives who would act at some distance from the passions of the people and thus be capable of enacting a deliberative democracy. For Madison, the representatives should be able to “withstand the temporary delusion” to “give time and opportunity for more cool and sedate reflection.”
Unfortunately, it is now the people who need protection from the delusions and impulsive passions of its chief representative, President Trump.
When Obama declared last October that “Democracy is on the ballot,” he wasn’t kidding. A minority of Americans voted in a President who wants to destroy it. It is one of the few things he wants to do deliberately.