Donald Trump: Our next George III?

The New York Times on July 4th published the full text of the Declaration of Independence. I read it too rarely. For in revisiting the sections outlining the long train of abuses and usurpation’s” which George III pursued with the goal of “absolute Despotism” I was struck by the astonishing number that could easily have been written about the current President. The two have more in common than their German, immigrant ancestry.

Let’s begin with Trumps repeated use of Executive Authority to choke off the rights of people seeking to legally migrate to the United States: the travel ban, the separation of families, the call to deny due process entirely to those seeking asylum.The founders complained of George III that “He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states….obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to …encourage their migrations hither…”

Check that box.

The Declaration indicts the king “For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world.” The current White House mania for trade wars fits the bill very neatly.

The Founders complained, (and legendarily protested in the Boston Tea Party), that the king was “imposing Taxes on us without our Consent.” One of the principal taxes in question was a duty on imported tea, whose economic impact was quite nominal — it was the principal that provoked the revolution. Trump invents entirely bogus “national security” emergencies to justify levying extremely damaging and consequential taxes on a huge array of imports — and his party refuses to join Tennessee Senator Bob Corker in reclaiming the principal of “no taxation without representation.”

The Declaration lamented of the King that “He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.” Trump rejected legislation to fix defects in US health care policy because he wanted to see the Affordable Care Act self-destruct. After praising the goal of enabling the Dreamers to obtain legal protections he killed legislation that would have provided it because it failed to give him concessions on unrelated issues.

George III “effected to render the Military independent of, and superior to, the Civil power.” The present Administration is by far the most dominated by military figures of any in US history. Trump repeatedly makes clear that he does not believe Congress has any legitimate role in deciding whether the US is at war or peace, and that treaties signed by the US do not bind his power.

The colonies strongly objected that the British Crown has been “depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury.” Trump’s favorite judicial nominee, Justice Neal Gorsuch, just finished writing an opinion that denied at least 25 million Americans of the right of trial by jury — or even a trial at all! — when they seek to sue their employers for violating federal or state laws.

When California reminded Trump’s EPA Administration, Scott Pruitt, that if he chose to weaken federal pollution standards for trucks and cars, the state had the right under the Clean Air Act to protect its own people and would do so, Pruitt and Trump retaliated by moving to strip California of its right to pass its own laws. George III did a similar thing, which made its way onto the Declaration’s list of grievances: “He has forbidden his Governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance unless suspended in their operation until his Assent should be obtained.”

Pruitt, instructed by Trump, has also moved to allow the destruction of coastlines and waterways by oil drilling, even when local governments and states protest; rolled back safety standards designed to prevent a repetition of the disastrous Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Here too George III provides the precedent: “He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts….”

Trump made it clear to Puerto Rico that its people would be punished if its elected government challenged him, captured by the Declaration when it lamented that the King “refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation…”

In fairness, however, there is one of the colonial grievances against George on which it is the Republican party, and some Democrats, who are the under-miners of democracy, not the President. The thirteen colonies were not represented in parliament — but George permitted parliament to pass laws governing those colonies, as the Declaration complained: “He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended legislation.”

Today’s equivalent are the trade tribunals created by NAFTA and the World Trade Organization — and in this case it is mainstream Republicans (and some Democrats, including former President Clinton) who have actively supported the idea that US law, federal and state, could beoverturned by secret courts over which American voters have no influence whatsoever. The Trump administration has opposed the continuation of such erosion’s of American independence — and may yet rein them in.

So on ONE of the almost thirty grievances the founders cited against George III, Trump has aligned with American Independence. On the nine discussed above, Trump has, in a single year, taken the side of despotism. That’s a faster pace than the Hanoverian monarch managed in the 1760’s and 1770’s.

And on the Declaration’s list of “repeated injuries” there remain five more on which the President’s rhetoric and tweets, at least, suggest he is dangerously close to embracing tyranny:

— — “obstructed the Administration of Justice.” (Even a King, to the framers of the Declaration, was subject to the law.)
— -“made Judges dependent on his will alone…” (Trump’s attacks on “fake judges”)
— -“sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people.” (Immigration raids)
— -“protecting them by a mock trial for any murders which they could commit.” (The pardon power)

And finally the authors of the Declaration understood that norms and traditions matter. They tasked George III and Parliament with what was perhaps the most broad-reaching offense — violating the unwritten traditions and norms of the British tradition of liberty and freedom, and thus “Altering fundamentally the Forms of our Government.”

On this endeavor, Donald Trump may not yet have succeeded. But he is clearly “pursuing invariably the same Object” and, as the Declaration warns, unresisted, such usurpation’s will tend to yield “Absolute Despotism.”

We are warned.

A veteran leader in the environmental movement, former executive director & chairman Sierra Club and Senior Climate Advisor to Michael Bloomberg

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