In an article in the New Yorker of March 14th 2019 titled “Is America becoming Trump’s banana republic,” George Conway, the outspoken Trump critic married to White House counsellor Kelly Anne Conway, said, “If it were not for the inherent checks and balances of the US constitution, we would have a banana republic.”
The events of the past few weeks have gone a long way towards questioning whether the constitutional safeguards that Conway referred to may have been consigned to history. Among other voices of concern this week was that of a Republican-nominated federal judge who said, referring to Trump’s vendetta against Andrew McCabe, “Someone at the top basically trying to dictate whether an individual should be prosecuted was like a banana republic.” The esteemed New York Times and multi-Pulitzer prize-winning columnist Thomas Friedman led off an opinion with this dire warning, “My fellow Americans, we face a national emergency. Never before have we had a president so utterly lacking in personal integrity, so able to lie and abuse his powers with such impunity, and so blindly backed by an amoral party, an unscrupulous Attorney General, and a media-fund-raising juggernaut. It is an engine of raw power that will cram anything the President says or does right down your throat.”
What Friedman, and many others, are excoriating is evidence which suggests that we might be witnessing the inexorable transformation of a republic into a dictatorship. It is not just the fact that days before 51 elected representatives thumbed their noses at the wishes of 80 percent of Americans by voting to turn a constitutionally-mandated impeachment hearing into the equivalent of a Russian show trial that is causing alarm.
Superimposed on this shredding of constitutional precedent is evidence that governmental agencies charged with the responsibility of protecting the American public by ensuring compliance with the rule of law are now subordinating that obligation to acting so as to flagrantly kowtow to the political and personal interests of the White House. Immediately following the Senate’s manufactured acquittal of Trump came the announcement that no investigation of any person can be carried out by the American machinery of justice without the sole authorization of Attorney General William Barr. This is the same head of the Department of Justice, soon to be renamed perhaps as the “Department of Miscarriage of Justice,” who bastardized the conclusions of the Mueller Report before it was released in order to misrepresent to the American public the extent of Trump’s misconduct. He was described this week by a Guardian columnist as a “tough on crime hypocrite, a Trump toady and chief law enforcement officer who makes a mockery of the legal system.”
The most recent flouting of the obligation of impartiality by Barr was his interference with the sentencing proposals of his prosecutors for what amount of prison time should be served by the latest in a long line of Trump’s criminal cronies to face jail, Roger Stone. Stone, it should be remembered, was convicted by a jury of seven serious federal offences. Mere hours after Trump had tweeted condemning the recommendations as being too harsh, accompanied by his usual “deep state” conspiracy theories, Barr did something that has never been done before; he withdrew what had already been filed with the court and substituted it with a recommendation urging a more lenient sentence. This resulted in the four senior prosecutors who had been involved in the case immediately resigning from it in protest.
This abdication by the Republican Party from its constitutional responsibilities in favour of treating Trump as if he is a monarch has also given rise to increasing comparisons to behaviour associated with cults. A former Republican Representative Joe Walsh, who took on the hopeless task until recently of contesting Trump for the Republican presidential nomination, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed on February 6th that he “didn’t fully realize … how brainwashed so many of my fellow Republicans seem to have become.” He said it “now resembles a cult.” A recent book entitled “The cult of Trump” by Stephen Hassan describes the indoctrination techniques that Trump uses to build a fanatical devotion among his followers.
That should not come as a shock as history shows that cults are almost a uniquely and plentiful American phenomenon. Is Donald Trump, perhaps trading on his reality TV career, the modern version of a televangelist, a “tweetangelist” perhaps? Some are even speculating that in the event that he loses in November, he will refuse to accept the result claiming voter fraud, foreign interference or whatever falsehood comes to mind and insist that he is entitled to stay put. His allies could then cooperate to litigate the issue all the way up to the Supreme Court. There are also the thinly veiled disturbing insinuations that he utters from time to time that his supporters may resort to civil disorder if something happens that displeases him. There is good reason not to lightly dismiss these theories if for no other reason than that Trump anticipates that the moment he leaves office he is probably going to be subject to a plethora of criminal indictments including obstruction of justice, money laundering, tax fraud, etc.
Canadians watching this apparent rampant erosion of our neighbour’s constitutional protections play out in real time have every reason to be concerned particularly when its perpetrator has in the past demonstrated anti-Canadian bias. He is currently unilaterally appropriating money from public funds earmarked by Congress for other reasons in order to erect his (vanity) wall on his southern border; what kind of wall might he create on his northern one? At the very least Canadians may find that the current trend in restricting cross-border access will be intensified and there must be a risk that when he wants to be seen as all-powerful, which is almost every day of the week, what new tariffs may be imposed on us on a whim? After Trudeau was filmed mocking Trump last December at the NATO meeting in London, the National Post published an article headlined “Canada could well pay for this: Experts weigh in on consequences of Trudeau appearing to mock Trump in a video.” Among the many personality defects that he is frequently accused of is unbridled vindictiveness as exemplified by his treatment of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman.