Sarah Kendzior is a St. Louis, Mo.-based commentator who writes about politics, the economy and media.
On April 27, U.S. President Donald Trump sent out a missive congratulating himself on his “100 days of accountability,” boasting he had implemented “tough ethical standards to ensure his administration works for the American people and not itself.”
Two days prior, Mr. Trump had sent out a text asking “the forgotten people” to bid on “five incredible photographs of our massive inauguration.” For the low price of one dollar, and total disregard for the emoluments clause, you too could have a slice of history from the Grifter-in-Chief! Mr. Trump’s text message shakedown did not make the news, overshadowed as it was by the fact that U.S. tax dollars are being used to pay for the President’s Florida golf trips, security for his wife to live in a golden tower and the business ventures of his daughter and son-in-law, who, like their father, are abusing executive power to enhance family wealth.
In return for funding this budding dynasty of kleptocrats, the Trump administration promises to take away the public’s health insurance, national parks, public schools, environmental protections, civil rights and most social programs benefiting life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Under President Trump, the American Dream is a going-out-of-business sale.
That this bad bargain – which Mr. Trump tried to push forth through a series of largely unsuccessful executive orders – has not fully taken hold is only because of the refusal of Americans to accept it. His first 100 days were a test of checks and balances and citizen commitment to holding officials accountable. Most of the administration’s policy initiatives failed only because of the efforts of judges, representatives and citizens who objected and struck them down. Their actions were a rejection of Mr. Trump, and more importantly, a rejection of complacency.
That he has failed to build a wall on the Mexican border, eliminate NAFTA, pass his health-care bill or ban Muslims from the country has led to some pundits suggesting that he is not a unique threat, but a run-of-the-mill bad president in the vein of George W. Bush. These are absurd misconceptions. Some of Mr. Trump’s advisers are under FBI investigation for their relationship with Russia; one had to resign after being revealed to be a foreign agent. When his press secretary isn’t rambling about “Holocaust centres”, his administration is passing initiatives such as VOICE, which has been compared with Nazi protocols. This is an enormous departure from any predecessor.
Mr. Trump is an autocratic leader struck down by a democratic society and what is left of a democratic government. There is no guarantee that future efforts to stop them will be successful, as he and his administration may try to rewrite the laws in a way that allows them to break them. He has yet to face a serious crisis such as a terrorist attack or an economic crash, both of which would make it easier to provide a pretext to strip citizens of their rights, as authoritarian leaders have done since time immemorial.
Americans are very tired, and exhaustion with the ongoing administrative horror show has led to two popular fantasies. The first is that Mr. Trump will magically change and become presidential, as he was briefly proclaimed to be after his address to Congress and after he bombed Syria, before a new disaster shook pundits from their delusions. The second is that the so-called deep state will oust him through the Russian interference investigation, which the administration is actively trying to impede. The first scenario is an illusion; the second – with so many administrative officials implicated – is no guarantee.
These fantasies spring from the same wishful thinking and denial that got Mr. Trump elected. For over a year, citizens refused to accept that the unthinkable was not only thinkable, but probable. His win was a lesson in the dangers of complacency. The 100 days have shown Mr. Trump’s failures to be not a natural result of incompetence, but of vigilance that citizens and officials must continue to apply if they want to keep their republic.
A new translation of Dante’s The Inferno bears the lines: “Forget your hopes. They were what brought you here.” This is good advice for those living in Mr. Trump’s special hell. The era of hope and change is over. The era of resistance and resolve is now.