US Supreme Court changes threaten to immortalize far-right intolerance

US Supreme Court changes threaten to immortalize far-right intolerance

There is a reason why evangelical Christians hold their noses and continue enthusiastically supporting a US president who offends many of their moral principles: Donald Trump’s greatest triumph has been in remolding the American Supreme Court in a deeply conservative hue. This court in turn upholds the president’s hard-line immigration policies and fights back against diversity and the historic achievements of American liberalism. 
 
The appointment of Justice Neil Gorsuch (along with a rabble of poorly-qualified but rabidly right-wing judges) earlier in his presidency can now be consolidated by a further Trump appointee after the retirement of centrist Justice Anthony Kennedy (who had held his position since the Reagan era), with other judges from the nine-member Supreme Court also close to retirement. As a New York Times editorial warned: “With Justice Kennedy’s departure, the court is very likely to lock in an unmoderated, hard-right majority for the rest of most of our lives."
 
Last week, the Supreme Court proved its value for the president with a 5-4 decision upholding what we know as the “Muslim ban,” following on from Trump’s campaign pledge of a “complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Remarkably, the court’s decision implied that Trump’s motivations breached the constitution and “the principles of religious freedom and tolerance on which this nation was founded.” Nevertheless, they resolved that the president was “well within executive authority.” Dissenting judge Sonya Sotomayor accused her colleagues of “blindly accepting the government’s misguided invitation to sanction a discriminatory policy motivated by animosity toward a disfavored group.”
 
This apparent vindication of a flagship Trump policy follows weeks of immigration topping the news agenda. Trump’s “zero tolerance” for illegal immigration led to traumatized children and babies detained separately from their parents in what could charitably be described as concentration camps. Despite Trump’s allies arguing that such excessively draconian policies were necessary, public outrage forced Trump into a rare U-turn, outlawing the separation of children, but ghoulishly threatening parents they could only see their offspring again if they agreed to deportation.
 
Trump’s alt-right immigration czar Stephen Miller has shunned consultation over his hard-line initiatives to avoid them being watered down by congressmen or career officials. The predictable result has been chaotic policy roll-outs, blindsiding even senior administration personnel. However, there is method in this madness: Ex-Trump adviser Steve Bannon boasted that they deliberately maximized the Muslim ban’s disruptive impact by unveiling it mid-weekend, “so the snowflakes would show up at the airports and riot.”

Trump wants to pitch himself to conservative Middle America as the strongman who stands up to liberal elites.

Baria Alamuddin

When democratic nations take sudden lurches to the right, we assume that such aberrations will quickly correct themselves. But, when radical fringes capture the administration, their invariable priority is remaking it in their own image. In Italy, Austria and Hungary, ascendant right-wingers consolidated their positions through seeking to dominate the security and intelligence services — with enthusiastic encouragement from Moscow. Nouri Al-Maliki in Iraq, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey and leaders in Poland and Hungary flooded the judiciary with like-minded cronies, ensuring pliant judges wouldn’t challenge self-interested, corrupt attacks on democratic institutions.

The problem with populists is they are popular. Publics may feel queasy about their roughshod approach and coarse language, yet immigration is a flashpoint issue. Americans don’t like seeing kids in cages, but many blindly support a president who appears tough on immigration. Trump weaponizes immigration by stigmatizing all refugees as criminals, rapists and terrorists. This isn’t about responsible measures to safeguard borders; this is a power-grab by racist demagogues through inciting their supporters against other faiths and ethnicities. 

Despite appearances to the contrary, this president knows what he is doing. By forcing divisive issues of immigration and identity to the top of the agenda, he energizes both his own base and radical liberals; triggering a cultural war through which Trump can pitch himself to conservative Middle America as the strongman who stands up to liberal elites who would flood the country with immigrants, criminals and “radical Islamic extremists.”

Democrats are falling into his trap by fighting the mid-term elections on a polarizing agenda defined by Trump. As Bannon said: “When they talk about identity politics, they’re playing into our hands.” Trump is loathed by progressive America, yet his Republican support has swelled to about 90 percent, which will be boosted through reforging the Supreme Court on conservative principles.

Western democracy is being trampled underfoot by hyper-democracy, as traditional determinants of public opinion like the mainstream media are outflanked by an out-of-control cyber-media landscape where virtual mobs are mobilized by Russian troll farms. Trump the reality TV star boorishly revels in his ignorance of global politics, yet he knows how to stampede his supporters against the “fake” media and an illusory “deep state” on his path toward authoritarianism.

The rise of the alt-right and fascism in America and Europe is no blip. Even if Trump is voted out in 2020, the divisive legacy of his presidency and like-minded European ideologies could be with us for decades — especially in Eastern Europe and developing nations, where democracy has the shallowest of roots. Through Trump’s delegitimization of the media, his co-option of the Supreme Court, installation of radical cronies in key institutions, and cyber-demagoguery; America and multiple European nations are plunging toward an authoritarian dark age.

This is how democracy dies. Demonization of Muslims, children in cages, and murderous fascist mobs aren’t incidental aberrations — they are a foretaste of our future if the civilized world does nothing and allows evil to triumph. The problem with Trump and his European wannabes is that every provocation against liberals and the “fake news” strengthens them further within an already impregnable support base. 

This dynamic will only change when not just progressive fringes but the center-ground of Western and global public opinion takes a stand, consigning these preachers of hatred back to the far-flung and despised marginal swamps where they belong.

 

• Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.

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