Editor’s Note

Editor’s Note February 2017

The first week of Donald Trump’s presidency may not have revealed anything new about the man, but it did confirm the worst fears for his rule.

Any doubts over whether he meant what he said – about immigration bans, voter fraud, building a wall, trade deals, environmental regulation – can be put aside now. As irrational and contradictory and simply nasty as his touted positions often seem, many are being put into action. Executive orders are being drafted at a rapid rate, federal agencies gutted and bullied, administration staff pushed to lie and worse, and the media is already coming under fierce attack.

“Whenever you find yourself thinking, or hear others claiming, that he is exaggerating,” wrote Masha Gessen in her recent New York Review of Books piece ‘Autocracy: Rules for Survival’, “that is our innate tendency to reach for a rationalization.” For Gessen, Trump’s wild words are harbingers. “Trump has made his plans clear, and he has made a compact with his voters to carry them out.” Her number one rule? “Believe the autocrat. He means what he says.”

Yet it’s also impossible to predict what is to come; the man sheds principles without shame. He gives no indication that he can distinguish between truth and dark fantasy, or that he values anything above his own aggrandisement.

In these circumstances, the worst must be expected – and to prepare for anything less would be foolish.

The Republican Party has so far responded with only cowardice and opportunism. Will other arms of government, the bureaucracy, the intelligence services, state and local governments, police and military go the same way? Can one person corrupt an entire system? Only if he is allowed to.

Trump’s presidency has almost certainly been unconstitutional from the moment he was sworn in. His business interests, from which he hasn’t divested, seem in clear breach of the emoluments clause (which forbids receipt of payments from foreign powers). Who will call him on this, and when? (And this is in addition to the very real possibility that his alleged collusion with Russian entities renders his presidency illegitimate, a topic on which Robert Manne recently wrote.) Will any authority even attempt to prevent widescale corruption or profiteering in relation to his businesses? At this stage it’s impossible even to judge whether government decisions are affecting Trump’s business interests, because information about the latter is, bizarrely, mostly still secret.

When neither the president nor any arm of US government is inclined to respect the constitution, it is a mere statement of fact that the rule of law is at stake. “What we are witnessing,” wrote Gideon Rachman for the Financial Times, “is the destruction of the credibility of the American government.”

The rest of the world, including Australia, will increasingly be implicated in the Trump trajectory. As Hugh White writes in the new issue of the Monthly, Australia’s interests are tied to America’s, whether we like it or not. The choice we face is stark: do we or do we not continue to follow American leadership? To date, all signs are that we will.

Nick Feik

Nick Feik is the editor of The Monthly.


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