If Trump is guilty and pardons himself, it opens a door none of us want opened

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Robert Mueller, courtesy pbs.org

New reports are showing that the President has asked aides about his pardon powers – for his family, his allies, even himself, if the special counsel’s investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia incriminates him.

A lot of Trump supporters have been saying they don’t care. If they haven’t outright denied any of the Russia business is true (#FakeNews!), then generally the refrain goes something like “Russia didn’t tell me who to vote for,” or “I don’t care about any of that, I want better jobs and a better economy.”

I can’t blame people for thinking this way. Of all the scandals and controversy we have seen in the news lately, much of it doesn’t affect our daily lives. If Trump colluded with Russia, it doesn’t directly affect my pay, my job security, my healthcare, or my children’s education. As far as these people are concerned, that’s all on TV, happening far away, for those people in suits in DC to argue about.

But a large part of Trump’s appeal was that he wasn’t influenced by anyone. He stood on his own, against the establishment, paying his way through his own campaign. He owed nothing to the millionaire and billionaire business interests of the party (in fact many of them actively worked against him), to the Washington establishment, to the Republican Party itself – it seemed he owed nothing to anyone besides his supporters. It was believed that he would work for nobody besides the little guy – the factory worker, the coal miner, the laborer.

This was their guy – the guy the working class supported to finally turn the neoliberal establishment on its head, as punishment for screwing them over for decades.

Why was this so appealing? Because of sovereignty. The idea was that Trump represented the power of the working class, pooling their voting power to finally fight back against the establishment which has enacted policy after policy that hurt them. The working class was regaining sovereignty over the federal government.

This is also why Russia meddling in our election is so dangerous, and why it does affect our daily lives. And why, if it does happen to come out that Trump was complicit in this collusion, he cannot be allowed to pardon himself. Putin has threatened our sovereignty, and if he is allowed to get away with it, it will open the door for every other major power on the planet to threaten our sovereignty as well.

A Trump supporter who thinks this doesn’t affect them should think about the possibility of Germany, or the European Union, or China supporting Trump’s opponent in 2020 – using state resources to hack Trump’s campaign or worse. This would weaken your support of your candidate, as you would be up against some of the most powerful political forces on Earth, who are out for their own interest – not yours.

It is already bad enough that Russia is seeing no fallout from the Republican majority for their actions. It would be infinitely worse if the president was guilty and pardoned himself, getting off scot free. This would not only open the door for every other power on Earth to meddle in our elections, but it would also give the President the power to break any law he or she wanted. You may feel that the special counsel’s Russia investigation is a witch hunt, but Trump won’t be in power forever. Do you want a Democrat to be able to break any law they want while in office? What if one day a socialist holds the office of the presidency?

What if a future president (that you may not like) defies the Supreme Court and pardons themself? If this seems far fetched and extreme, look at this headline in the Wall Street Journal this week.

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Courtesy Wall Street Journal, https://www.wsj.com/articles/poland-presses-forward-with-plan-to-remake-supreme-court-1500559212

Imagine what our headlines would look like if the President had no checks and balances on their power.

If you voted for Trump, or voted at all, some part of you must believe in your sovereignty. Don’t be complicit in losing it.

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The Rise of American Authoritarianism

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Steve Bannon, White House Chief Strategist, source: Time Magazine

Think of your average super villain. Dr. Doom, Lex Luthor, Magneto, Loki, Darth Vader. Typically they share a common motivation: autocratic power. They are villains in our stories because they don’t believe in liberty and democracy, and instead try to “take over the world” and consolidate global power under their own rule.

Before I lose you because you think I’m going to call Donald Trump or Steve Bannon a comic book villain, I’m not. But there’s a very good reason this type of power is considered villainy in our culture. Modern democratic societies, since their inception in the 18th century enlightenment and the American Revolution, have for the most part shattered all other power structures in a very short period of time and spread like wildfire throughout the world. Critics will tell you that democracy is not morally superior to other forms of government (democracy is just as capable of genocide as fascism), but it is a superior power dynamic due to its most critical aspect – peaceful transition of power, which allows for a new party or movement to take power of the government without revolution or civil war.

There is a growing movement in our country and around the world right now that is opposed to democracy. There is a body of authoritarian movements – movements with a unifying theme of placing a strongman in power who will “set us straight again” and ignore or outright defy the systems meant to check his power – that are not just gathering momentum, but have already steamrolled their way into our government. The rest of us who believe in the tenets of representative democracy, in checks and balances and equal branches of government, in civil and inalienable rights, have been behind the 8 ball because we have not taken this seriously enough.

This might sound like hyperbole, but if you don’t believe me, look into neoreaction. Abbreviated “NRx,” neoreaction teaches that democracy is inefficient, ineffective, and has outlasted its welcome on Earth. They believe that this system must be replaced by a power structure based on autocracy, with power held in a single leader, and with clear ownership and chains of command. They believe the government must be run much like a private company, where the owner or CEO makes decisions independent of any other bodies, that are then executed unquestioned by his staff.

This might just sound like a bunch of edgy teenagers on the internet just beginning to develop their politics… that is, until you take a look at the White House inner circle. Particularly Steve Bannon, the former Breitbart editor, now White House Chief Strategist, who has inserted himself into the National Security Council and inserted his worldview into government policy. Bannon is reportedly a reader of neoreactionary thought, and his former outlet Breitbart is considered “alt-right.” We’ve all heard of the alt-right by now, which is a loose far right political ideology that questions or rejects egalitarianism, and roughly believes that all races, genders, and national identities have the right to compete independently for dominance in society.

We can’t be 100% certain what Bannon’s worldview is, but we can deduce. And being a key adviser in the Trump Administration, we can see that play out in the anti-democratic hands all over their policy and political strategy. Any entity that acts as a check on the power of the Executive Branch is treated as an enemy – the press, the courts, the popular vote, the opposition party, facts. We can argue all day whether or not the President truly believes in this, or whether he “gets it,” but it is clear that the people surrounding him do. And they’re not stupid.

This administration is quickly showing one of the following to be true: it either doesn’t know about the tenets of democracy, it doesn’t care, or it is actively opposed to it. And unfortunately, the most likely explanation so far seems that they are actively opposed. Anybody who is hoping for change through the traditional democratic means – voting, elections, free expression and assembly, petitioning their government – should have their eyelids shooting open. There is a powerful threat to democracy right now, one that usurped immense power before our very eyes, and we need to catch up. This is not a joke.

If you believe that your positions are right and true, that they truly benefit the most people on Earth, then why be opposed to democracy? Democracy has proven itself to allow for change in government philosophy, over time – through dialog and critical thought, through spreading your ideas and getting as many people as possible on board with your version of change. Democracy allows for the strongest ideas to filter to the top. If your philosophy is strong, if it can survive the tests and strains put on it by questioning and political challenge, then it can cause change in government rather easily compared to other power structures.

There is only one reason that you would be against democracy, and that is to force your worldview onto everybody else, regardless of whether it hurts them or not. Authoritarianism does not account for the minority, for the marginalized, for the smallest voices in our society to have their issues recognized and attended to. It does not account for issues that affect groups large enough to assemble and petition their government. Most of all, it does not account for the ability of a country’s people to cause change, because throughout history the only way change occurs in these autocratic societies is through bloodshed and war. And that is where anti-democratic thought fails.

However, the anti-democracy movement itself will not fail unless it is resisted, powerfully. The traditional means of petitioning our government have not failed yet. The checks on the Executive Branch have flexed their muscle – namely the courts and the press. Congress is under immense pressure from their constituents to investigate ties to foreign dictators (though they are also under immense pressure to pass conservative legislation, which is holding them back from doing so).

The first step to fixing a problem is acceptance. We have not yet accepted, collectively, that this is no longer a fringe meme constrained to internet forums. We must collectively accept that we not only have an anti-democracy problem in this country, but that this movement has infiltrated our government like never before. Regardless of how you feel about Donald Trump, please recognize that at the very least, the people around him and in his ear are pushing him to authoritarian, autocratic tendencies. The resistance to this is not just “the corrupt establishment fighting back against the man of the people,” or the Democrats whining about their election loss. Many were willing to work with Trump on areas where their beliefs coincide. Instead, the resistance is to these authoritarian tendencies that threaten to undermine our democracy. These are dangerous precedents to set, and in a lot of ways the damage has already been done. Going forward it is up to us to collectively, and firmly, say “no.”


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