This has to stop now.
The thousands of Americans who have come out to say a resounding ‘no’ to the Trump regime’s attack on hundreds of thousands of Muslim travelers do not need me to tell them that. The shame instilled in me by my government is truly surpassed only by the pride I feel in my compatriots. They seem intuitively to understand the nature of what we’re dealing with.
What we’re dealing with is a regime – and I’ll explain why I’m using that word in a moment – that can only sustain itself through the kinds of ‘governance’ it is inflicting upon us at the moment. It is a regime incapable of governing through the usual levers of American policymaking: it has no interest in or command of legislation, it has no patience for procedure. The Trump regime has no constructive agenda for governing, and the scant ideas Mr Trump has put forward are so asinine, they’ve been rejected by his own cabinet appointees.
And yet, like all charismatic despots, Trump is hungry for legitimacy. He understands how tenuous his position is, how thin his support, and how fickle his supporters. He fears it could go at any moment; he fears that almost as much as he fears the reckoning that will inevitably follow. And so he cannot bear the ups and downs of popularity and approval that all previous American Presidents have learned to endure. Each minute slide in his ratings – even though the ratings that matter to Trump are all in his head – will seem to him to portend certain and immediate doom. He must always keep the momentum of his self esteem on the upswing.
And so he will ‘govern’ the only way he can: through assault. The powers of the executive branch give him very little ability to improve the lives of Americans, to bolster our economy or even, truly, to secure our homeland. He can build no lasting legacy, at least not of the positive kind. But he can attack and destroy. He can uproot lives and disrupt livelihoods. He can enrich and enrage at the stroke of a pen. He can stoke fires of passion and enmity. The grievances of his constituents will be soothed only by the aggrieved howls of the rest of us – and by the broken lives of his most recent victims. But as long as he can find new victims, new wedges, new targets, he will press his advantage.
I call it the Trump regime because, from a political science perspective, that’s what it is. States are things more or less immutable – abstract forms that, per Weber, hold the monopoly on the legitimate use of force in a given territory. The ways in which a state is governed can change, but it remains the same state. A regime is about how that state is governed: a set of norms, practices and understandings that remain largely unchanged, regardless of who is in power or the particular policies they pursue. Governments, then, come and go, acting within the confines of their given regime. Thus, Clinton could replace Bush, Bush could replace Clinton, and Obama could replace Bush, and while many things did change, the American regime did not: the United States remained, for all its faults, a pluralist democracy with effective checks and balances, governing through the ‘normal’ ways and means of constitutional power.
The transition from Obama to Trump brings regime change. A president who makes no pretense to policy but seeks only to govern through chaos and uncertainty – through battlefield dominance, if you will – is not simply a change of vector. This regime change threatens to alter the very purpose of political power in America, to eviscerate whatever remained of the idea of ‘government for the people’, replacing it with predation and abuse.
It is not too late. The thousands of Americans who have poured into airports, the volunteers working to rescue refugees and permanent residents alike from detention and deportation – these are the remnants of the old regime. They may yet prove the stronger force. But if Trump breaks them – if be breaks us – we will lose something much more than a battle over immigration. And that is why this must be stopped. Right now.