A few weeks ago, I could’ve woken up without seeing something totally insane in my news feed when I checked Facebook in the morning. “Donald Trump suddenly and without warning implements Muslim Ban, causing massive backlash worldwide.” “Eric Trump has a suspiciously high secret service bill.” “Sarah Silverman advocates military revolt against the presidency.” Honestly, though, the most surprising and annoying thing about the last one is that it’s news. Why is it important? It’s obviously not realistic, and it’s not profound, and yet somehow people still care. It’s one of those rare and paradoxical instances where caring about something shows you’re NOT actually taking it seriously (I hope). It’s like the stuff you see about the Kardashians, but they at least have the sense to stay out of politics for the most part, unlike certain other reality TV stars. Politics isn’t like reality TV. You can’t turn it off at the end of the day or if you get to a part you don’t like. If a military revolution is happening, it happens. If it’s necessary, there is some chance it will happen – and at some point it is possible it may be.
Although that would definitely be overkill in our present state of affairs, it’s worth looking at what’s happened so far in Trump’s presidency to situate ourselves. He’s issued a clearly unconstitutional executive order, started fights with allies around the globe and made it clear that he doesn’t care about appearances. The biggest point is the executive order he issued about a week ago that produced what in effect amounts to a Muslim ban. I woke up on a Saturday and saw that order and thought, “well, this is within expectations for Trump.” Then I read the part about green cards. He banned GREEN CARD HOLDERS from the United States, and it was quite clear from the attitude his administration took that this was not an unintended misreading of the law.
No one thinks this was a good idea. Well, presumably some people do, or it wouldn’t have happened, but Paul Ryan’s opinion is generally a pretty good barometer of whether or not something is totally ridiculous. I mean, if you look at what Trump did, the only ways to read it are as an attempt to create a distinction between green card holders and U.S. citizens, since he targeted green card holders and not U.S. citizens, or as testing the waters to see how far his power goes. While there is undoubtedly a small difference between citizens and permanent residents in the legal sense – green card holders can’t vote in national elections, and in some cases don’t receive federal assistance – in a real sense, there is a huge difference between someone who’s lived in the United States for 10 years and has a green card versus an immigrant who came here last year.
This is not to say that it I agree with deporting or banning the latter sort – I absolutely don’t – what I am saying is that it is totally ridiculous for someone who has lived in the United States for 10 years and been treated like any other citizen, so much so that they didn’t even apply for citizenship, to be discriminated against in this form. It’s like Trump is taking permanent residency and making it into some sort of 5-year citizen internship, which I guess makes sense if you’re running the country like a business. But, in a real sense, if Trump can ban green card holders from coming into the United States today (and he can, because he did), what’s stopping him from banning U.S. citizens? Notice: this ban is a blanket statement that applies to all people from these countries, regardless of their complicity in crimes or acts of terror. This sets an uncommonly low burden of proof for such targeting, which is very alarming.
Perhaps you think I’m overreacting? I hope not. It’s been made pretty clear in the last few weeks that Trump’s executive order was unconstitutional from the get-go, but it took well over a week for it to be reversed and it caused permanent damage. Trump separated families. He left refugees in dire conditions in Syria or Iraq without any regard for their rights, violating multiple UN guidelines and conventions in the process. If the extent of the limitations on Trump’s power is that he can do anything, but only temporarily, then Trump has a lot of options available to him. For example, what happens if Trump writes an executive order that says “arrest all the judges”? If it isn’t struck down within a few days, there will be no one left to strike it down. This is probably not going to happen, but it is an extreme case highlighting the massive potential of Trump’s power. It’s a bit of a leap to assume that federal agencies would imprison judges indefinitely just because they detained green card holders, but when you think about it, both acts are equally legal. If Trump continues to ground his statements in “I’m doing this because I can do it” rather than precedent, and the police behaves in a similarly unthinking fashion, it could very well come to pass. It’s kind of scary that the only thing keeping our government in check is the fact that most of it doesn’t behave like the president.
There are many more interesting hypotheticals to consider. For example, what would happen if Trump attempted to become dictator by holding the United States hostage with nuclear weapons? As in, Congress is voting on something like a global warming bill, there’s a filibuster, and Trump says something like “California is ruining everything! Anti-progress, fake news Democrats don’t know when to quit hugging trees, maybe they’d be better off if I nuked ‘em, show ‘em what REAL global warming feels like! SAD!” Somehow a tweet like this doesn’t seem that out of character for Trump. What if he actually did it? Presumably the order would go through, since Trump appointed the major people in this chain of command and he’s presumably asked them about scenarios like this, and California would be nuked. Would anyone be willing to test him? There’s a small possibility that Trump could gain leverage just by threatening to use nukes. It’s certainly not something you can just dismiss.
That’s why it’s so important for us to realize that each of Trump’s actions has a specific purpose. Every crazy thing Trump says and does, he does for a reason. The logical culmination of refusing to accept reality and stockpiling more and more power is to use that power to create your alternate reality. How do you prove that a million people showed up to your inauguration? Make them go. How do you prove that millions of people voted illegally? Make it illegal to vote. Why? Because they could be terrorists, of course. By the way, terrorism is an awfully convenient excuse to violate the Constitution, isn’t it? If you don’t know who the terrorists are, you have to deny EVERYONE in this group their rights, even the ones that aren’t terrorists, if you want to stop it proactively. But these policies have a great cost: they harm the very bedrock of our democracy, and start us on a dangerous path.
Trump’s order, which affects men, women and children with green cards, is clearly in this vein of thought. Permanent residents should not be viewed as second-class citizens with as little right to this country’s blessing as foreigners on a temporary visa. It’s like comparing a foreign exchange student to someone who you’ve gone to school with for all of high school – I know because I went to school with many people who were permanent residents, and there was absolutely no indication that they weren’t full citizens born and raised in America. They spoke perfect, unaccented English, were totally knowledgeable on uniquely American customs like Thanksgiving and Martin Luther King Jr. Day (more, perhaps, than the President himself), and were totally indistinguishable from natural-born Americans. And yet, the ones originating from these seven countries on Trump’s list would not have been able to return to America. These can never be second-class citizens, and any attempt to draw a line brings a bitter truth to the surface: Trump doesn’t care about how American you are. He doesn’t care how safe you are. He only cares about power, and how he can most readily acquire it.