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Alien and Sedition Acts Redux

When you really think about it, conservatives have wanted to take this country back to the beginning of the republic ever since Reagan was elected in 1980. After all, Antonin Scalia and the Originalists (which is a great name for a rock band, yes?) made their political and philosophical careers on interpreting the constitution according to what they believed to be the framer’s intent. And as long as Scalia and Thomas and the far right were on the fringe, it looked like the country might avoid the embarrassment of living in the 1790s.

That’s all changed, hasn’t it?

If the first month of the Trump administration was a bit of an organizational mess, the second month is proving to be a full court press on the nation’s values and mission. What was once a pair of bedrock beliefs–that anyone who could make a contribution to society was welcome here, and that a free press was the major check on executive and congressional power–seem to be under assault by the president (shudder) and his minions in the White House. They are now committed to actually breeding hatred, suspicion, xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-intellectualism and undermining news organizations and journalists who dare to cover them critically.

Gone are the days, if they ever existed, where Americans could take some solace in the idea that Donald Trump was more moderate than his campaign words and that he would try to unify the country around change that would benefit the working and middle class. His screed in front of the Conservative Political Action Conference was a call to arms against fellow Americans who understand that fear and suspicion are the enemies of representative democracy, and Sean Spicer’s press wall against those news organizations that the administration blames for negative coverage is a dangerous admission that the Trump White House has little regard for facts or interpretation.

It makes sense, then, to think that we might be on the verge of new Alien and Sedition Acts (and reading the first paragraph of this entry made me laugh. The Soviet Union is gone, so just substitute Trump’s America). Far-fetched, you say? Banning immigrants is on the check list. Muzzling the press and making it illegal to criticize the president? Former, yes, the latter, not out of the realm of the possible. These laws were terrible enough in the 1790s, but they would be a catastrophe today. The president and Steve Bannon seem to be in agreement on challenging every mainstream media organization and demonizing their reporters and executives. They champion their own press that has, shall we say, a spotty record when it comes to reporting actual facts. They want to plug press leaks too. Anybody seen G. Gordon Liddy around?

Of course, this isĀ all a great big Hypocrisy Woodstock love-in. When the press was using Russian leaks about Hillary Clinton, Trump encouraged more. When James Comey bombshelled the election 10 days before the vote, Trump was exultant. Now he’s blaming the FBI for being against him. And there will be more verbal attacks on other agencies as they inevitably will need to come into conflict with the White House, because it’s clear that Trump cannot be wrong. But don’t worry; he’ll tweet what’s correct.

None of this is normal. None of this has a precedent. None of this conforms to any notion of responsible presidential behavior. None of it. We are moving in reverse. Time to dig our heels in.

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