Trump and the ‘So-Called Judges’: Political Ineptitude or Tyrannical Finesse?
The New York Times published a cartoon by Patrick Chappette on Tuesday, depicting a judge behind the bench, smashing his gavel down upon the sound block, while Trump defiantly stands below the bench, brandishing a mallet the size of his ego. The cartoon perfectly recreates Trump’s now infamous, sneer – lips curled and eyes tightened – and illustrates his attitude towards the judicial branch of the U.S government.
Judge James Robart on Friday issued a restraining order barring Trump’s ban on immigrants and refugees from seven majority Muslim countries. As we have learned again and again, the new president is sensitive to criticism. Though the silliness of “inauguration-gate” was concerned with size, and could be tossed aside as mere pettiness, Trump’s reaction to Judge Robart’s ruling has turned political ineptitude into tyrannical finesse.
On Twitter, Trump said “so-called judge” Robart’s ruling was “ridiculous.” The phrase “so-called” is used to imply that a name, title, or ascription is semantically inappropriate for the subject in question. In other words, calling Judge James Robart – a Georgetown Law alumni and Bush appointee (confirmed unanimously by the senate) – a ‘judge,’ is somehow mistaken. Such a statement would be warranted if Judge Robart had been in violation of judicial rule. For example, had he taken money from an interested party, but Trump is attacking him because of Robart’s dissent (it is reasonable to think that perhaps Trump is envious of his through-the-roof senate approval ratings). By questioning the credibility of Judge Robart, Trump undermines the integrity of the entire judicial branch.
Baron de Montesquieu, the originator of the triplicate framework for governance – power divided between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches – says: “There can be no liberty where…the power of judging be not separated from the legislative and executive powers.” The judicial branch prevents the executive and legislative branches from passing unconstitutional laws, thereby protecting the people from an unfair imposition of government. While Trump raises the wall on the southern border, he razes the wall that keeps out tyranny and despotism.
In a later tweet, Trump said, “I just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!” Excusing the alternative fact that people are “pouring in,” we can see where this statement could lead. When the next terrorist attack occurs on U.S soil, Trump will stick it on the courts. He will be able to undermine the judiciary by claiming that the court system gutted our national security and allowed the next yet-to-be tragedy to occur.
“Trump vs. the Judges, Part II” by PATRICK CHAPPATTE via NYT The New York Times https://t.co/tg0VwThwBr
— Api Ashraf (@ApiAshraf) February 10, 2017
Dictators throughout history have used fear to gain control over the government and economy, but they have also frequently demonised or coerced the judicial branch of government. Mussolini dreamt of a state where all three branches came under the Duce’s control; Hitler, in his first year of power, promoted propaganda that stated, “Enemies of the People, Get Out of the Way of the German Common Peoples Will,” below which were pictures of German judges. Perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised, Mussolini did warn us: “Democracy is beautiful in theory; in practice it is a fallacy. You in America will see that some day.”
Roosevelt’s famous statement, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” could not be truer when it concerns Trump. Trump has fabricated threats from Muslims and Mexicans, to the U.S always ‘losing.’ He has made the lie big, made it simple, and has said it often—borrowing Hitler’s favourite strategy. He has constructed an image of America that suggests the four horsemen are saddling their stallions. In this way, Trump is able to make claims and pass executive orders that would seem outrageous in any other context. This fear has led to a greater demand for security, justifying a Muslim ban, the appointment of ‘Mad Dog Mattis’, and the “strengthen[ing] and [expansion] of [our] nuclear capabilities.” It demands a response.
To combat the creep of fascism, as Christopher Hitchens advised, always act “as if” this were not the new normal. We should not merely roll our eyes when he promotes his family business on Twitter or manages to destabilise U.S-Australian relations. Instead, you can call your representatives, write against his actions on social media, donate to organisations that are opposing him, read George Orwell’s 1984, and – this above all else – keep the discussion going, do not give Trump the chance to use his ‘yuge’ mallet.