President Trump has planned a visit to the Texas Gulf Coast on Tuesday to survey some of the devastation done by Hurricane Harvey since it hit landfall on Friday.
As he is doing that, let’s survey the devastation left behind by Hurricane Trump since Friday to our basic human values.
On Friday, Trump sent a directive ordering the secretary of defense to implement a ban on transgender people serving in the military. The Defense Department will be allowed to make individual judgments on the status of transgender people already serving in the military. Nonetheless, the message is clear: Transgender people are not worthy of the task of defending the nation, and they are not worthy of being defended by the nation.
Thus said the same president who two days earlier said that it was time to “seek a new unity based on the common values that unite us,” that we are “defined by our shared humanity, by our citizenship in this magnificent nation and by the love that fills our hearts.”
Trump clearly does not think transgender people share our humanity or the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. But thanks to lawsuits filed in federal courts Monday, the judiciary will have the last word on whether a president can discriminate against a class of people based on their sexual identity for no other reason than the prejudices and ignorance of some members of his political base.
It was hours later on Friday that Trump issued his pardon of former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio after he was convicted of violating the laws he was sworn to uphold. It was an act so disdainful of the rule of law that some leaders in the Republican Party, like senior Arizona Sen. John McCain, publicly denounced it.
As Co-Executive Director Alejandra Gomez of Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA) wrote in a statement immediately after the pardon was announced, “Joe Arpaio intentionally terrorized immigrant communities across Arizona for decades and traumatized an entire generation of Arizonans. He declared he was proud to be called KKK and sadistically brutalized inmates in his prisons. The only proper place for him is in a jail cell.”
But Arpaio never saw the jail cell, and that fact alone would make Trump’s pardon of Arpaio beyond the pale. The president’s power to pardon is considered absolute when it is used to end the sentence of someone already serving time for a crime. It has never been used to pardon someone who has been convicted of a crime – as Arpaio was for criminal contempt of court – but has yet to serve time.
The Trump pardon of Arpaio is a subversion of justice characteristic of a lawless dictator. That it was done for a man with a legendary disregard for the humanity of black and brown people detained under his watch is a disgusting reaffirmation of Trump’s own bigotry.
Then there was Monday’s executive order allowing military weaponry to once again flow into local police departments, where they can be used by untrained and unaccountable officers to terrorize local communities. The Obama administration in its final months had ended a program that had sent more than $2 billion worth of military gear to local police departments, ranging from M-16 and M-14 rifles to grenade launchers. Yes, there are 57 grenade launchers in the hands of local police departments.
The nation saw how in places like Ferguson, Missouri, where the police shooting of Michael Brown touched off a violent rebellion, the militarization of police departments can escalate tensions and cost innocent lives. “In Ferguson and beyond, it seems that some police officers have shed the blue uniform and have put on the uniform and gear of the military, bringing the attitude along with it,” former Marine Paul Szoldra wrote in Business Insider in 2014.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the executive order in a speech in Nashville, Tennessee before the Fraternal Order of Police, an organization that has reflexively defended virtually every publicized police shooting of an innocent African American, no matter how indefensible. “We back the blue,” Sessions said, after declaring that his boss “is exceptionally proud to have run as the law-and-order president.”
The re-militarization of local police departments is the latest display of the Trump Justice Department’s scorn for communities of color. Sessions in his early days as attorney general ordered a “review” of Obama administration consent decrees with police departments designed to improve their police practices and rebuild trust with their communities. Sessions also mandated a return to the kind of sentencing standards for lower-level drug and other nonviolent offenses that have sent a wildly disproportionate number of black and brown people to prison for inordinate amounts of time – and has made the United States a global leader in jailing its people.
Like a Monster Hurricane
The Trump presidency, like a monster hurricane, is doing unprecedented damage to our democracy and to our progress toward being a country that is more equitable and fair. But the Trump presidency is also unleashing a flood of even more fiercely determined people who will take to the halls of power and to the streets to end Trumpism, end structural racism.
This movement will call on police departments around the country to reject Trump’s latest offer to place weapons of war on our streets, will continue to push out of office anti-immigrant Joe Arpaio wannabees around the country, and stand up for the equality of our transgender brethren, from grade schools to the battlefields and everywhere in-between.
The nation saw a slice of this movement on Monday, which was the 54th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Several thousand people, largely clergy and lay faith leaders, gathered in Washington at the King statue at the Mall and marched to the Justice Department. Rev. Al Sharpton, whose National Action Network spearheaded the march, called it an opportunity for leaders “to get rid of their fear and their political laryngitis and stand up together.”
“We are here for Trayvon Martin… We are here for Michael Brown. We are here for Philando Castile,” the Rev. Charles Williams, president of the National Action Network’s Michigan chapter, was quoted in The Washington Post as saying. “We are here to protect voting rights. We are here to tell our president we will not stand for racism and bigotry.”
“It’s a tough season for all of America,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson told USA Today during the march. “But if we resist, we win.”