An open letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell:
It was wisdom rather than whim that guided the founders of our nation in separating the powers of government with a system of checks and balances. As James Madison remarked in The Federalist 47, “the accumulation of all powers … in the same hands, whether of one, a few or many … may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”
Their faith in the future is being put to the test by current events in Washington that prompt me to ask: Have you lost your minds? Are you as irresponsible as the madman in the White House? Why are you defaulting on the duty of the Congress to defend our democracy?
Why are you enabling Mr. Trump’s excesses?
I’m writing this letter Jan. 30, the anniversary of two world-changing events. One was the birth of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who greatly honored the office that you are allowing the current occupant to disgrace. The other was that of Adolf Hitler attaining the chancellorship of Germany in 1933, despite not having won a majority in any election.
A month and a half later, Dr. Paul Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s new propaganda chief, warned German newspapers against publishing criticism that could be used, as The Associated Press paraphrased it, “by oppositionists to the government’s detriment.”
“The press must be the keyboard on which the government can play,” he said. “Criticism will be allowed, but it must be expressed so that no enemy of the government at home or abroad may be enabled to seize upon such criticism to the government’s detriment. Cooperation between the government and the press is our aim.”
I don’t have to tell you what happened soon after to the German press.
Well, sirs, it hasn’t taken nearly that long for Mr. Trump’s propaganda minister, Steve Bannon, to tell The New York Times to shut up, for the president himself to indulge himself in infantile Twitter messages attacking the Times and other great newspaper, The Washington Post; for a committee chairman in your Congress to lecture the media on its duty to be the government’s mouthpiece; and for Kellyanne Conway, who is apparently the junior propaganda minister, to say that reporters who criticize Trump ought to be fired.
Doesn’t any of that concern you?
I have specific concerns about what Trump is doing and what you are not doing.
A case in point is your reported assurance that Mr. Trump’s great wall will be built, at extraordinary expense to the public in one form or another of direct or indirect taxation. That wall will be as abject a failure as France’s Maginot Line, and the only beneficiaries will be wall builders in the United States and tunnel builders in Mexico. The latter, as you should know, already have expertise in smuggling narcotics and people under our existing defenses. As deep as you build a wall, people will find ways around it. We have a long and essentially unguarded coastline. The Canadian border is open. Visas can easily be overstayed. The wall would be a failure not only practically but in the moral sense as well. History will come to regard that wall and its builders with the same contempt deservedly directed at the Soviet Union and its puppets in the former East Germany.
My second issue is your timid acceptance of the catastrophic incompetence and cruelty with which the president issued his executive orders against Muslim immigrants last Friday. That he picked Holocaust Remembrance Day to do so is an irony almost too painful to bear. The agencies that would have to carry out his abuse of executive power (and what has become of the distaste you expressed when President Obama exercised his?) were neither consulted nor forewarned in time to avert massive confusion at airports. Decent people holding legitimate green cards were treated as criminals. Families were sundered. And why were only certain countries singled out, excluding those where, by remarkable coincidence, Mr. Trump has been doing business? Why are people from Iraq subject to his ban when those from Saudi Arabia, the country of origin of most of the 911 terrorists, are not barred? Don’t these inconsistencies bother you? Are you unconcerned by his unconstitutional preference for immigrants of one religion over all others?
Are you not frightened — frankly, I’m terrified — that he is excluding the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of National Intelligence from the regular meetings of the National Security Council? And that in their place, he is installing his far-right adviser, Steven Bannon? It would seem that he wants to hear only from those who would inform and flatter his biases. In my opinion, the Congress should without delay provide by legislation for the permanent, full NSC membership of those officials, and find a way to keep the dangerous Mr. Bannon at a distance.
In my view, and that of others among whom we share concerns, you have decided to tolerate and even enable the administration’s dangerous conduct because of the short-term benefits that might accrue to the Republican Party. Yes, you might attain some policy goals that the candidate who won the popular vote would have blocked. But you are deluding only yourself if you think all this will rebound to the long-term benefit of your party. When America comes to its senses, the people will hold you along with Trump responsible for all the damage that needs to be undone. The greater the harm, the more you’ll be blamed for it.
Martin A. Dyckman
Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina.