Put up or shut up on the Trump threatens democracy claim

Some on the left and in media are beginning to acknowledge the excesses of the anti-Trump resistance. For example, Evan Mandery of Politico discussed the shunning of Alan Dershowitz for the sin of raising civil libertarian concerns about some of Robert Mueller’s conduct. And Jack Goldstein acknowledged and worried about the “deep state’s” assault on President Trump.

In both cases, though, there was a caveat. Mandery expressed it in remarkable prose:

[P]erhaps the democratic project is under existential threat—and history, if it survives as an independent academic enterprise, will look back pityingly upon civil libertarians who coddled power with their concerns about prosecutorial overreach while a fundamentally corrupt president undermined the great American project.

Stated less floridly, Trump may be such a threat to democracy that almost anything goes when it comes to resisting. Anyone who defends the president on any front deserves the abuse he receives.

Die hard anti-Trumpers aren’t the only ones who thought they detected an authoritarian bent to Donald Trump. I did too. And it is never wrong to worry that a president might veer in an authoritarian direction.

But we are now more than 15 months into Trump’s presidency. It’s fair, at this point, to ask for evidence that Trump threatens, existentially or otherwise, the democratic project. It’s also fair to ask for evidence of collusion between Trump and Russia — the alleged phenomenon that Goldsmith cited as possibly justifying the “deep state’s” assault.

Where is threat to free expression? Whose speech has been shut down? Which news outlet has been curbed?

Please don’t cite Trump’s barbs about “fake news,” etc. As David Azerrad says, the First Amendment does not protect the media from harsh criticism. All citizens, including those serving in government, are permitted to chastise it. This is not the exclusive prerogative of The New York Times’ ombudsman.

Where is the threat to the rule of law. Show me that court order Trump has violated or ignored. Show me the law he has violated or refused to enforce.

The travel ban was the basis for some of the early hysteria about Trump. But the administration twice revised that order in an attempt to conform with court rulings it didn’t agree with.

Where is the assault on minority rights? At the fringes of civil rights laws, the administration has pulled back, or tried to, from some of the aggressive positions taken by Team Obama. But in doing so — e.g., when it comes who uses which restrooms and who must bake wedding cakes for whom — it argues in favor of the understanding of civil rights and constitutional law that prevailed for decades.

Our democratic project is not threatened if our civil rights laws are interpreted as they were before Barack Obama became president. Nor is threatened by enforcing immigration laws or supporting legislation that would bring immigration levels more in line with historical norms.

Finally, where is the evidence of Russian influence on Trump? Identify the Russian agents who have served in the administration. Show me the policy decisions Trump has made that favor Russia.

The fact is that on nearly all big ticket foreign policy issues — Iran, Syria, Ukraine, you name it — Trump’s decisions have gone against Russia’s interest. And let’s not forget about the expulsion of all those Russian diplomats. No wonder some, including Trumpf and Putin, say that US–Russia relations are more acrimonious than at any time since the end of the Cold War.

The anti-Trumpers need to move beyond the “Trump as authoritarian tool of Russia” narrative. Few are still buying it.

But if the left does move on, what remains that might justify “resistance.” As of now, only nasty tweets and conservative policies.

The left would be more than happy to maintain its campaign of hyper-resistance based solely on Trump’s conservatism. That’s what its resistance was always really about, anyway.

But can the left sustain and sell the kind of carrying on we’ve been witnessing with only that and some rude tweets? Even with the mainstream media in overdrive, I’m not convinced it can.

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