A consensus has emerged among serious people that Donald Trump’s presidency has become a national emergency.
It is old news that this view has long been espoused by America’s preeminent constitutional scholars and legal ethics experts, such as Larry Tribe, Richard W. Painter and Norm Eisen. Yet in recent days, their chorus of anxiety has been joined by prominent career public servants with close ties to the intelligence and law enforcement communities. These uncharacteristically vocal critics include Eric Holder, Preet Bharara, James Clapper, Michael Hayden and indeed, Jim Comey. It is noteworthy that many of these figures are centrists or even committed members of the Republican Party. Most until recently possessed high-level security clearances. Nearly all are, under normal circumstances, tight-lipped and far from alarmist. Yet they and a small army of leakers have taken to the public with a rare solemnity of purpose. Their message is amplified by informed and reliable journalists at the Washington Post and the New York Times. It is a simple one: The Trump administration poses an imminent threat to global security and the rule of law.
Yet it falls on too many deaf ears.
I worry the left is slow to grasp the magnitude of this assault on our institutions because it has too little respect for them. While it is no secret that our politics are badly polarized, a less reported-on phenomenon is the deep suspicion taking root on the left of law enforcement, intelligence agencies, career politicians and institutionalized American power in general. This cynicism is driven in part by the residual influence of the Vietnam generation on left-wing thought leaders. More recently, it has been echoed by critics of the so-called surveillance state who count Julian Assange and Edward Snowden among their heroes.
The impulse behind this distrust of American power is, I think, well intentioned and often badly needed. But in this particular instance it is driving conclusions that are wrong. These include the notions that center-left Democratic leaders are serially fraudulent enemies of the people, that terrorism and foreign autocracies are not serious threats and that American institutions do nothing to support people’s ability to live free lives. Such views have become a fiercely guarded part of many young progressives’ personal identity.
These left-leaning iconoclasts are unwitting allies of equally well intentioned but ill-informed ultra-conservatives in seeking to dismantle the entrenched sources of American power collectively derided as the “deep state”. Both sides voice grievances that deserve serious attention, especially when they decry rising income inequality and the influence of special interests on American policymaking. Yet if their more extreme wishes are fulfilled, in a spectacular implosion of American power, dangerous foreign adversaries will rejoice and liberalism will suffer.
At the moment, this cynicism has worrying consequences. Many in the public are loathe to acknowledge that so-called “fascists” in the Department of Justice, the American intelligence community and the Democratic Party leadership are critical allies in the high-stakes drama currently unfolding around President Trump.
The problem is exacerbated by the unwitting consumption by both left and right of “fake news,” a phenomenon recently detailed in a thoughtful piece in the Guardian. This pollution of our information ecosystem creates impenetrable echo chambers, entrenches misguided opinions and reduces the impact of the very real news breaking daily in the detested “MSM,” or mainstream media. It is beyond serious dispute that Russia, and indeed Trump, have played a role in this assault on truth.
This presidency is a global security risk, coming at a time when liberal institutions worldwide are under attack. It’s time to put party aside and stand together in defense of American democracy. In this case, that means little more than taking care that our laws are faithfully executed, including those requiring Trump’s impeachment and criminal prosecution for obstruction of justice.
If Republicans in the Congress continue to insulate the President in order to advance their short-term policy agenda, citizens should peaceably assemble to demand an immediate end to their dangerous obstructionism. The Republican Party’s Faustian bargain with Trump, struck to secure deregulation and judicial appointments, has taken a dark turn. The left’s distrust of American power, excessive decorum and material complacency have become self-defeating. It’s time to unite around shared core principles and rise to meet this unprecedented threat to our constitutional order.
-Peter Collins J.D. ’18
Contact Peter Collins at pmc123 ‘at’ stanford.edu.