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American democracy and the demise of civil liberties

How the Trump presidency has changed America

The current President, Donald J. Trump, captured an electoral win by catching the populist wave at the right time, shortly after Brexit. Since his election, there have been many changes. All of which, signal a drastic change in Americans’ freedoms and civil liberties.

Increasingly confrontational US Foreign policy

As we have seen, Donald Trump has changed his cabinet quite a few times with a slew of high profile resignations or dismissals. In the latest wave of dismissals, a new generation of hardliners have risen to power namely John Bolton and Mike Pompeo. Many people consider both of these men as hard-line conservatives with aggressive stances towards Iran and North Korea.

During his tenure as US Ambassador to the UN, John Bolton has expressed views against the UN. It is well known he was the architect of the Iraq invasion in 2005. Some view him as one who doesn’t do well with foreign policy and prefers war.

In the same vein, Mike Pompeo, who was in charge at the CIA, has promoted strong ties with Israel and opposition to the Iran deal brokered during the Obama administration. In addition, he has talked about more military action in Iran. Regardless of political view, he has an appetite for confrontation rather than restraint.

In choosing to make these changes and appointing these hard-liners, Trump has continued to raise the stakes with both Iran and North Korea. He dubbed DPRK leader Kim Jong-Un ”rocket man on a suicide mission” in one of his famous tweets. Other international leaders have not received this inflammatory rhetoric very well. Such a case is the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, who likened Kim and Trump as ‘children in a kindergarten.’ As the DPRK-US tensions continue to rise, Trump has agreed to meet with Kim in a historic meeting that could change the course of relations going forward. At this time, no date has been set for that meeting. Many on the international stage will watch the lead up to and outcome of this meeting including China, Russia, and other UN security council members.

North Korea is a well-known issue that the Trump received as part of his handover from Obama. Another is Syria. Just recently, Trump has pulled out of Syria. This announcement to pull-out from Syria has surprised his own cabinet and many observers notably the Syrian FDC and other US protected assets. This announcement follows a usual trend of ramping up inflammatory rhetoric against a country or figurehead to firm up the US commitment that Obama started followed by bowing out and withdrawing the US from that conflict.

Increasingly Protectionist Trade Policy

Trade is not exactly foreign policy, but it is part of it and has a significant impact on foreign relations. One important yet powerful development is the recent steel and aluminium import tariffs. The basis for the tariffs is ‘national security’ which could put national security and defence on a slippery slope.

This decision will impact future trade relationships between the US and other steel exporting countries namely China. China has responded in kind with imposing trade tariffs on $3 billion of US imports. The full impact of this tariff decision has not been fully realised. Experts fear a trade war may begin shortly.

Another potential bottleneck that Trump has created is the possibility of minimising or ending NAFTA. The NAFTA deal created under Bill Clinton opened trade between Mexico, US, and Canada. It created many opportunities and lead to globalisation. Of course, some may argue that it caused many US companies like Ford Motors outsource jobs to Mexico. However, US companies have outsourced to other countries such as India. Modifying the NAFTA may prove useful for the US. However, any changes should benefit all 3 parties given the volume of trade and opportunities it brings. Naturally, the US should protect its own interests, but that protection should be influenced through diplomatic policy that promotes cooperation and globalisation not aggression and protectionism.

Reduced civil liberties at home

Long has been known the paranoia of US officials specifically with intelligence. The US has been nabbed before for wiretapping other foreign officials such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel. While that paranoia has led to smearing US foreign relations, domestic relations don’t seem better.

This past week, the US congress passed a law aimed at stopping sex trafficking. The bill passed with overwhelming support in both the US Senate and the House of Representatives. The bill caused Craigslist to remove its personal ads section which people used for meetings or sexual interactions.

The trouble is the loss in personal liberties both for sex workers who may have used the site as a source of income and for those who wished to have some connection with another individual. It seems to violate the key phrase of the US Declaration of Independence: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness covered under the veil of removing the opportunity for sex trafficking.

The above example is only the top of the iceberg and probably one of the least destructive. Imagine a lady who met a guy on Craigslist now falls pregnant. At present, she has the freedom to seek an abortion if she wishes to terminate her pregnancy. Because of recent decisions, she may have not had access to birth control.

She does not have the access, because Planned Parenthood has seen cuts in its funding. Naturally, any budget cut means a reduction in service or accessibility. The estimated consequence is 390,000 women lose access. While that number seems small, remember that individual states could reduce funding as was the case in Texas.

In another move, the Government has decided that transgender people who have had a sex change or are in transition cannot serve in the US Army. The immediate consequence is those wishing to serve don’t have the opportunity. On the other hand, a longer-term consequence may be a shortage or disinterest in serving in the US Army.

What right does the US Government have to take away a person’s personal freedom?

Intensified racial tensions

The racial issues seen between police and blacks continues. The usual outcome is a black person is shot and killed and the shooting officer walks free without any criminal charges. In 2018, a total of 264 people were shot and killed by police of which 22% were black:

Source: Washington Post

The fatality statistics regarding police related shootings only show part of the story, what about the convictions of those officers? Madison Park at CNN reports that over a 12-year period (2005 -2017), the conviction rate for police related fatal shootings is 35%. In other words, there were 80 officers arrested on manslaughter and murder charges during that time span, and only 28 officers were convicted.

As these fatalities continue, the US Government under Obama has passed a measure to track the fatal officer shootings. However, Donald Trump has argued that police fatal shootings are ‘ a local matter’. In addition, he has advocated for police to treat suspects with a tougher approach. Together with these police shootings are events where extremism prevails fuelled by a gun control problem.

We are already aware of the gun control problems the US faces given the recent shooting in Florida where 17 people were killed. The issue of gun control is a prevalent one with various attempts to improve the current situation. However, that has not yet stopped any extremism from proliferating society.

The events at Charlottesville are a prime example of how these racial tensions manifest — KKK members rallying and no sign of abatement by some members of the US Government coupled with the continued police shootings. This suggests one of the divisions that thrives in American politics today and has paralysed the US Government.

While that sounds rather grim, there is always a solution to a problem. One can start by educating police officers and setting up action groups like ‘Black Lives Matter’, but that won’t solve it. This problem requires a significant policy change where something is done to facilitate real gun control. At the same time, lobby groups need to be accountable for their role in the past events and influence they bear over certain Government entities. In addition, tougher sanctions towards police officers who commit crimes ought to go through a legal process. It may help to setup a separate tribunal that deals with these types of killing like the military tribunal that deals with military related crimes such as fraud.

Consolidation of power in Federal Government

As noted, the Trump administration has seen a high turnover rate. With that turnover, an increasingly hard-line cabinet continues to be formed. The consequence of these actions is the consolidation of power. Of course, the consolidation may not be as extreme as that of Xi Jinping or Vladimir Putin. However, the direction is fairly similar where a select few people benefit and the rest are purged in a systematic, calculated way either through pure corruption or manipulation. Manipulation is probably the easiest one in today’s digital age and can take on many forms.

One form that has trended is the consistent claim of “fake news” in various tweets. The President has consistently discredited the media whenever a story was portrayed, e.g. the Mueller investigation into the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russian authorities. Another form is the discredit of the Justice Department such as the FBI and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

The end result is a president with no counter opinions and an aggressive stance to pick a fight.

Economic power roadblocks

Whether intentionally placed or not, economic power plays an important role in freedom and civil liberty. At this point, there is fear by some, as Bernie Sanders mentioned during the Betsy DeVos confirmation hearing, that the “[US society is] moving to an oligarchic form of society.” Furthermore, the recent tax reforms seem to align with and suggest a similar movement in this direction.

The dwindled and diminished economic power could lead to a view that it’s a manipulation and way to control the majority of the population. In doing so, the population may not have the necessary means to promote and provide changed needed to debate the current trend. Further, the current sentiment among some politicians doesn’t seem to support bucking the trend or changing its current path.

Final Thoughts

The US is heading down a murky path where its defining principles are changing and not speaking of true democracy. Money and politics have mired this thought.

It may prove that capitalism works but democracy not necessarily. As the supposed leader of the free, democratic world, it has not achieved the expected results in recent times. The current policy seems to suggest continued progression along this path.

Change and reform are the two tools that can desperately change the current course to restore civil liberties and stave off World War III.



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