The first 100 days of Trump’s America were, by most estimates, unproductive if not entirely uneventful. He may ultimately score a success on his hallmark Muslim ban, the constitutionality of which is currently tied up in courts, but the ordeal’s steep political costs would leave the victory a pyrrhic one. Since then, the new administration has accomplished virtually nothing of note, and Trump has already reneged on a shockingly large portion of his campaign promises. His inability to follow through on his lofty guarantees has so quickly become an undeniable reality, that the ever-confident Don has already publicly confessed his own unfulfilled expectations.
“This is more work than my previous life,” Trump recently told Reuters. “I thought it would be easier.”
Trump’s startling lack of interest in concealing his incompetence has coalesced with his increasingly apparent legislative limitations to alter his public image, particularly in the media. Outlets that had previously portrayed the president as a calculating, albeit megalomaniacal, tactician have subtly changed their tune. Now, they are more often casting him as a less awkward but more evil Michael Scott, an accidentally successful businessman who has been thrust into a role far beyond his capabilities.
This new role has bumped Trump a little further down in the blame-game hierarchy as America reacts to the new GOP health care bill, perhaps as a secondary or tertiary target behind Paul Ryan and, arguably, actors like Kevin McCarthy, Mark Meadows, and Tom Price. Anger from the left, as well as others who will be hurt by the Obamacare replacement bill, has largely been directed at Congressional Republicans in recent weeks, alleviating some of the negativity that the Trump administration has been tirelessly attempting to deflect.
As the legislature continues to impose its will on the executive, Trump has looked and been portrayed as much more similar to George W. Bush than his idol Andrew Jackson. This perception and political climate make it easy to act like the country’s current state of affairs would be no different under President Rubio, Kasich, or Carson. It’s tempting, reassuring, and natural to minimize or normalize Trump. Don’t. Injustices like the recent arrest of Desiree Fairooz serve as painful reminders that the current political regime is more than a reincarnation of modern American neoconservatism.
On January 10, Fairooz attended the confirmation hearing of Attorney General nominee Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, who is everything that his name would suggest. The former Senator’s history of racism is well-documented, from calling the NAACP “un-American,” to referring to his Black staffers as “boy” in person and the n-word behind their backs, to commenting that he had supported the Ku Klux Klan until learning that some of its members used marijuana. Even in an era of less racial sensitivity, Sessions’ bigotry was so egregious that Coretta Scott King was impelled to pen a 10-page letter, urging that Sessions not be confirmed as a federal judge. So when Republican Senator Richard Shelby testified that the aspiring A.G. has an “extensive record of treating all Americans equally under the law,” Fairooz reacted as naturally as one could; the 61-year-old activist burst into laughter from the back of the room.
The reaction to Fairooz’s amusement has been anything but natural. She was immediately escorted out of the hearing by Capitol police, which already marks a clear overreaction to what Fairooz says was a natural reaction. She has since been arrested, tried, and convicted of “disorderly and disruptive conduct.” In a tragic and absurd twist of fate, she could face up to six months in prison for—it bears repeating—chuckling at a laughably false testimony.
This is not an isolated incident, though it may be the most drastic example of a concerning pattern. When Senator Elizabeth Warren attempted to read Ms. King’s letter aloud on the senate floor, she was stopped by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who invoked a rarely used rule that prevents character-based criticisms of fellow senators. The extraordinarily tone-deaf decision to silence the words of one of American history’s most important civil rights leaders was met with harsh backlash by liberals, particularly feminist activists.
This act of silencing dissent did not fly under the radar, and Warren was immediately canonized for her resistance. McConnell, for his part, did not go unpunished. His use of the phrase “nevertheless, she persisted” to describe Warren’s behavior went viral and now has its own Wikipedia page.
Yet, instead of easing off of the quasi-totalitarian muffling of political opponents, the administration (in this case, the Department of Justice) doubled down on Fairooz. This is not just unacceptable, but also unprecedented. For example, Rep. Joe Wilson interrupted Barack Obama’s address of Congress in 2009 by repeatedly shouting “You lie!” at the president. Wilson later released an apology statement, but refused to issue a formal apology on the house floor. The idea of criminal charges against Wilson was never entertained, and he escaped the situation without any further punishment. Even Bush and his close allies were known to criticize dissidents, but they attempted to dole out punishment through political bargaining and intimidation rather than obscure senate rules and criminal charges.
While Trump may not be directly responsible for each of these incidents, people that he handpicked or allied himself with have been, and each ill-treatment has been enabled by the political climate that the President has fostered with his endorsement of fascists tactics. This is not normal, nor can it be written off as mere incompetence. As the Trump narrative shifts, complacency in the face of these injustices becomes all the more dangerous.
Trump has smashed not just the Overton window of ideology, but also the window of political ethics. When McConnell attempts to erase the words of a King, he is empowered to do so because of our new president’s abhorrent moral compass. Dragging the window back to where it belongs doesn’t simply require a rededication to ethical politics, but also an emphatic and tireless rebuking of Trumpism. Reject the media’s bumbling, harmless Trump, and continue fighting against the mastermind that we know and hate.