The Way To Stop Trump–A Serious Message From the Legal Director of The ACLU

by Dartagnan –


In the darkest, worst years of the George W. Bush Presidency, from 2001-2003, those of us who recognized the “War on Terror”– and its inevitable culmination in the War in Iraq– as the opportunistic, malevolent power grab that it was, were mostly alone.

The Internet at that time was still in relative infancy. The predominant source of information was a corporate media that disgraced itself utterly in kowtowing to the  virulent megaphone of a right wing noise machine that had built itself up in the Clinton years. There were no “liberal blogs” to speak of and Facebook or other “social media” didn’t exist.  Opposing the appalling excesses of Bush, the last President to lose the popular vote who nonetheless behaved as if he had a  “mandate” from the get-go, was a lonely proposition.

Today the Bush name is so toxic none of the Republicans this year—Trump included—dared to even speak of Bush lest they reawaken the dormant emotions that his lie-inspired excesses inspired.

There is a lesson in all of this, as David Cole, the incoming Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union reminds us.

The stunning upset election of Donald Trump has left many Americans wondering what has become of their country, their party, their government, even their sense of the world…. Commentators claim that Trump’s election reflects a racist, sexist, xenophobic America. But we should resist the temptation to draw broad-brush generalizations about American character from last Tuesday’s outcome. The result was far more equivocal than that; a majority of the voters rejected Trump, after all. There is no question that President Trump will be a disaster—if we let him. But the more important point is that—as the fate of American democracy in the years after 9/11 has taught us—we can and must stop him. 

The operative word is “can.”  We can stop this. But we will all need to work together to do it.

All signs thus far from Trump’s nascent (and apparently only barely competent) “Administration” suggest that we will be facing the Bush regime on steroids—psychotic and delusional neo-cons such as John Bolton, committed corporate polluters such as Howard Hamm, and abusive, racist personalities such as Rudy Giuliani are being vetted for the top spots in a Trump Administration. There hasn’t been the slightest indication that any of Trump’s appointees will be anything less than the most repulsive right-wing ideologues imaginable.  He has reiterated his plans to establish a Gestapo-like deportation force, to “register” Muslims and other “undesirables, and with his Republican allies in Congress, he will eagerly take up the option to criminalize women’s reproductive rights, impose a quasi-state religion on the country and destroy Medicare and Social Security as we know it, all while tilting the economy grotesquely towards the uber-wealthy through his tax policies.

Whether Trump will actually try to implement these promises, and more importantly, whether he will succeed if he does try, lies as much in our hands as in his. If Americans let him, Trump may well do all that he promised—and more. Imagine, for example, what a Trump administration might do if there is another serious terrorist attack on US soil. What little he has said about national security suggests that he will make us nostalgic for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

The Trump Administration will present us with an abomination on a daily basis—that is what the Bush Administration did. Every single day we will be faced with a new horror, a new rollback of hard-earned progress for the betterment of people’s lives. As Americans are about to find out, having lazily enjoyed the gift of a “good” President who actually “cared” about Americans for eight straight years, the operative goal of Republican Executive power is not to “help” the American people, but to loot. The tools of government provide immense opportunities for such looting, from plundering our natural resources to raiding the Treasury. That is exactly what Bush and his cronies did, and that is what Trump will do. The parallels between Bush and Trump are inescapable, as Cole notes:

In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Bush acted as if he were entirely unconstrained. He had reason to think that he could get away with it. His popularity soared to its highest level. The Supreme Court had just voted to put him in office. He had a solid Republican majority in the House of Representatives, and the Democrats had only a razor-thin majority in the Senate

But, as Cole explains it did not work out as well as he and the Republicans who voted for him had planned:

For much of his first term, Bush did indeed get away with such tactics. But much to his dismay, Americans did not sit back and accept that the executive was above the law…[T]hey protested, filed lawsuits, wrote human rights reports, lobbied foreign audiences and governments to bring pressure to bear on the United States, leaked classified documents, and broadly condemned the administration’s actions as violations of fundamental constitutional and human rights. Human Rights First organized retired generals and admirals; the Center for Constitutional Rights and Reprieve, aided by an army of pro-bono lawyers, brought the plight of Guantanamo detainees to the world’s attention; the Bill of Rights Defense Committee sparked a grassroots protest through local referenda on the Patriot Act; and the ACLU used the Freedom of Information Act to dislodge thousands of documents detailing the CIA’s torture program, which it and PEN American Center then disseminated in accessible form. The academy, the press, and the international community all joined in the condemnation.

As a result of these and other efforts by the public to fight back, through whatever legal means and freedom of association we had available, even a conservative dominated Supreme Court established legal precedents against such Bush initiatives as the unlimited detention and imprisonment of persons without due process, and reaffirmed the applicability of the Geneva conventions to persons deemed “enemy combatants” for the sake of expediency.  The same holds true of Trump’s stated plan to weaken U.S. libel laws, already fairly set in stone by Supreme Court precedent, such that his attempts to silence dissent will face legal barriers more or less impossible to circumvent in his (hopefully) mere four years in office. Cole’s point is that legal challenges to Trump’s abuses, assisted by a Judiciary already remade in part by the Obama Administration,  and coupled with an activist, vigilant mentality, will be far and away our strongest suit in reining Trump in.

On a more empirical level, the kind of tactical mobilization and communication needed to defeat the likes of Trump was not available to those of us who opposed Bush, and we still prevailed in the end, turning his name into poison that haunts the GOP to this day. We now have an unparalleled capability to influence the media through unified action, something we never had during the Bush Administration. One more nightmarish Justice Scalia clone on the Supreme Court will –for the present — simply bring us back to the status quo that existed under Bush.  The experience of Americans having been lied into a pointless conflict in Iraq will also restrain Trump when he tries out every dictator’s favorite distraction–starting a war. Nor are our representatives in the Senate and House neutered simply because they are in the minority:

Bush did not introduce these reforms because he came to realize his wrongs. His memoir, like that of his vice-president, Dick Cheney, is entirely unrepentant. But Bush was nonetheless checked—by American civil society, international criticism, and, for the first time in history, the Court and Congress.

* * *

So if Bush could be stopped, notwithstanding widespread popular support, a large-scale attack on US soil leading to a war footing, and a history of judicial and congressional acquiescence in similar prior periods, Trump is also stoppable. He doesn’t have anything like the popular support Bush had after 9/11. And the recent history of the repudiation of Bush’s abuses will make it harder to repeat them.

Since November 8th the ACLU, along with other liberal organizations such as Planned Parenthood and the Sierra Club,  has received more contributions than in its entire history:

The American Civil Liberties Union, which issued a strongly-worded, widely-shared post-election statement against Trump’s campaign promises to deport undocumented immigrants, reinstate the practice of torture, and limit free speech, saw its donation page crash on Wednesday morning after visitors to the page, the ACLU said increased by 7,000 percent. In a statement on Monday, the organization said that in just five days it has received “roughly 120,000 donations totaling more than $7.2 million.”

That is because, quite simply, the majority of the voting public rejected Trump and we are that majority.

A]s the fate of the Bush administration’s counter-terror measures illustrates, even when the executive seems most invincible, he can be checked. Doing so will take an engaged citizenry, a persistent civil society, a vigilant media, brave insiders, and judges and other government officials who take seriously their responsibility to uphold the Constitution.

This is not the time to wallow in sorrow, sharing amongst ourselves beleaguered visions of what “could have been.” This is the time to speak up and be heard. This is a war, and we must prepare ourselves, and our children, for a battle that may outlive us:

We live in a constitutional democracy, one that is expressly designed to check the impulses of dangerous men. It will do so if and only if we insist on it.

You can and should donate to the ACLU here.


Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos