Monday, 6 February 2017

Trump and the Rule of Law

The whole story of Trump and his ban on immigrants and refugees was bad enough even before the inevitable legal tussle got underway, but his reaction since has been almost beyond parody, not that Alec Baldwin won't try.

Now no politician likes having his decisions overturned by the courts. Here in Britain we have just had our own legal tussles over invoking Article 50. The difference is that, though some on the Brexit side (I was actually restrained and respectful of the decision, although I disagreed with it) fulminated angrily about it, the government merely expressed disappointment before announcing an appeal. At no point did Theresa May call the judge a so-called judge for instance.

Perhaps someone should explain to Trump that he is not just the head of government, but that he is also head of state. They might, for instance, bring to his attention the oath of office he took only a couple of weeks ago, in which he promised to preserve, protect and defend the constitution so help him the deity he asked the country to pray to at a prayer breakfast when he also exhorted them to pray for his replacement as the presenter of a reality TV show.

Donald does not like to lose. I think we all realise this. But a judge does not, we hope, see matters in quite such simplistic terms. They deliberate based on the arguments presented to them and the law. And, in the US, on the constitution. It was determined that this measure introduced last week was unconstitutional. Trump considers that this endangers the American people. Yet this is hard to reconcile with the actual measure which bans people because they are from certain countries regardless of whether they had hitherto been given leave to visit the country or indeed had been living there previously and simply gone abroad for a holiday or family visit. It also seems to be saying that some grave crisis underlies this action, when in reality it it is just that the government has now changed and someone anxious to make political points on immigration is now in the White House.

The judiciary is there to prevent administrative overreach and to enforce the law and the rule of law. If this were a genuine security measure then there would be no issue here. But we can all see this for what it is.

It is also hard to take seriously Trump's concern for the security of the country and the safety of Americans when he continues to soft pedal on the issue of Russia and Putin. In an interview with his favourite news network over the weekend, Trump waved away the demonstrable fact that Putin is a killer. Trump did not, to be fair, actually deny this to be the case. But he did claim that Putin, the man who has disobedient journalists and political opponents killed or imprisoned, is not that bad because America does bad things too. It's the classic 'but what about' excuse that Russia itself routinely deals in when confronted with its own appalling behaviour, and unerring cynicism. It is also a travesty of the truth, because America, for all of its faults, has laws and separation of powers, an independent judiciary, a fiercely independent media (except Fox News) and free and fair elections. Trump finds fault with the freedoms of his own country, claims it does bad things on a par with a vicious dictator and then sound like one himself when someone has the temerity to question his decisions in the courts.

And, lest we forget, he has been in office for less than three weeks. Who knows what we will all be writing about this time next week.

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