Where is the America to which I swore allegiance nine short years ago?
It seems to have disappeared.
President Donald Trump has fired the FBI director who was investigating his campaign’s ties to the foreign power that has undermined our very democracy. The president and his staff are trucking in what any rational person knows are utterly transparent lies about the whole thing, and too many of the people who are supposed to protect us from his assault on our institutions are simply playing along. Nobody with the power to do anything about it seems to give a damn.
We’re on the precipice, the values to which I pledged myself — values I thought we all shared, regardless of political persuasion — at stake.
Back then, on that sparkling spring day, I never would have dreamed this was possible. Faneuil Hall was jammed with hundreds of happy immigrants from 75 countries. We were so grateful, so full of hope and faith in our new home.
“You, make no mistake, are what makes this country great,” federal Judge Bill Young told us. Even for a cynic like me, it was a profoundly moving day.
“America is free!” a joyous Ming Shu Zhan told me, when I asked the 79-year-old doctor from Beijing why he had chosen to become a US citizen. “It’s free!”
We raised our right hands and promised to support and defend the Constitution and the laws of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and to bear true faith to its principles. Sure, we might disagree on health care or education or foreign policy, but we shared a belief in the Constitution, the rule of law, the separation of powers, a free and independent press, the sanctity of the democratic process.
I bought it, every word. It seems so foolish now.
It is hard enough to come to terms with the fact that this nation elected this bizarre man president, a man who won by appealing to the worst instincts, and deepest fears, of millions of voters.
But this president’s repeated and blatant attacks on democracy are intolerable. Or they should be. An American president — and a Republican one, no less — cozies up to dictators, heaping praise on despots who murder their own people, commending them for strangling what remains of their democracies, sacrificing America’s moral authority in the world. And the very congressmen who held themselves up as chief protectors of American ideals, its exceptionalism, stand by and let it all fall away.
The president shows even less respect for democracy at home. He publicly encouraged Russia to interfere in the election as a candidate, and has thrown himself, with one pre-adolescent tweet after another, into undermining the investigation into that interference since he took office.
And when that wasn’t working, he fired James Comey. How stupid he thinks Americans are, that they will buy his ridiculous and, yes, trumped-up claim that he axed the FBI director, not for turning up the heat on the Russia investigation, but for making public statements about the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mail during last year’s campaign. Even though there are numerous documented instances of Trump praising Comey to the heavens for doing just that.
And he is surrounded by people more than willing to back him up. On Wednesday, spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders lobbed out one questionable claim after another: She said FBI agents had lost faith in Comey, though there is plenty of evidence to the contrary; and she called Comey’s purported transgressions during the presidential campaign (again, actions her boss was praising until very recently) “atrocities,” denuding yet another word of its meaning.
Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway actually said out loud that journalists had no right to ask questions about the president’s decisions here: “You want to question the timing of when he hires, when he fires. It’s inappropriate. He’ll do it when he wants to.” Sadly, plenty of Republican voters appear to have no problem with that.
People are calling the firing Nixonian. We can only hope. At least there were people in Nixon’s administration who found his transgressions intolerable, who refused to cover for him, who chose their integrity over their jobs. When can we expect the resignations, the attacks of conscience, in this morally bereft White House?
They say democracy dies in darkness. It dies in bright sunshine, too, if a president casually and routinely prevaricates in public, and if no one with the power to do so calls him on it. On this count, the congressional Republicans who are now the only check on Trump’s abuses have been beyond pathetic.
Only a handful of them have emerged to express concerns about the firing, and they’ve done so in terms that are inexcusably measured. Most Republicans have been silent on, or even supportive of, the firing. If they care about American democracy, they should be outraged.
Trump and his defenders are behaving as if he is invincible. It’s tempting to say history will not be kind to them, but that will be true only if enough voters are repulsed by what is happening here. Only then will history’s arc bend in the right direction.
Maybe that won’t happen.
Maybe, despite that joyous spring day, this is not the America I thought it was.