Despite only having been in office for a matter of weeks, the Trump administration’s flurry of activity already indicates grim developments on the horizon. The actions of President Trump are not only an assault on the values upon which the United States was founded; they threaten institutions that are a vital part of American democracy.
Trump’s executive order banning immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries has sparked massive protests across the country, and for good reason. Despite the assurances of White House officials, former mayor of New York City Rudy Giuliani, and Trump himself, have admitted that the order is essentially an attempt at a legal ban of Muslims entering the country. Obviously, this flies in the face of what America purports to be: a diverse country in which all are free to practice their religion in peace. Seeing this, the executive order was suspended by U.S. District Judge James Robart, a decision that the Trump administration immediately appealed. In a unanimous 29-page opinion, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit wrote that the travel ban “runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy.”
Judicial review, the power of the judiciary to rule on the constitutionality of a law or regulation, has been a fundamental component of the system of checks and balances that has protected this country from tyranny for more than two centuries. Many presidents and legislators have seen their efforts stymied by the courts, and challenging judicial decisions is not uncommon. President Trump, by contrast, has taken his disagreement with the judiciary to a dangerous level. Trump has called into question the validity of these judicial rulings, even preemptively laying the blame for any future terrorist attacks at the feet of the judges involved. These outbursts serve as an attempt to weaken the very legitimacy of the judicial branch itself. Part of why American democracy has more or less worked is because the three branches of government are co-equal, each serving to temper the other two. Trump has made it clear that he does not respect this constitutionally ordained system, believing that to contradict his word is to forfeit legitimacy, referring to one of the judges who ruled against him as a “so-called judge” in a tweet.
The judiciary has not been alone in facing Trump’s internet ire. The president has also engaged in attacking the press, calling such organizations as The New York Times and CNN “fake news.” These attacks have found broad support among his followers, serving to strengthen their loyalty to Trump and further isolate them from the opposition. By delegitimizing any institution that disagrees with him, Trump ensures that his supporters will only trust him and those sources he approves. It also allows Trump to entirely discount any criticism these outlets may level against him, no matter how well-reasoned or researched, essentially inoculating him against media oversight.
Journalists play as much of a role in democracy as any government official. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “a well-informed electorate is a prerequisite to democracy.” It is the journalists who review the actions of the government and keep the electorate informed. It is through rigorous reporting that journalists fight corruption and hold elected officials accountable to the people who elected them. Trump’s Twitter attacks do a disservice to journalism as a whole, the American people and the office of the president.
This is yet another issue with the Trump administration: so much of his communication with the public is conducted through Twitter tirades. Prior to his inauguration, Trump already had a prolific, and aggressive, social media presence. Ascending to the presidency has done little to moderate his behavior.
Though its status as “leader of the Free World” is somewhat questionable now, the president of the United States is still a figure that should command respect. However, this requires at least a modicum of dignity, something that Trump is sorely lacking. The president’s behavior on Twitter, arguing with critics and insulting rivals, has had the immediate effect of damaging Trump’s credibility and image, but it could also have long-term consequences for the presidency itself. The actions of the Trump administration go far beyond the scope of political wrangling. The president, unrestrained by the majority of Republicans in office, risks weakening the very forces within American democracy that have allowed it to thrive. Left unchecked, President Trump’s current course will carry us along a path whose consequences could fundamentally damage this country’s stability for years to come.