There’s something strange—exhilarating, certainly, but still strange—about experiencing a great feeling of solidarity on the subway.
It’s usually the place where we are arguably most tucked into ourselves, made worse in Washington by the frequent why-is-this-happening delays that that keep everyone in a state of enervated irritation.
But no sooner did I hop on the Metro at the Friendship Heights station headed into town for Sunday afternoon’s White House march than I felt that this ride was different. Many people held signs. It was packed, but this time no one minded. We were all going to the same place. Almost all of us. I chatted with a woman and her 15-year-old daughter who were headed to the Air and Space Museum to celebrate the girl’s birthday, although a quick exchange of views confirmed that both were simpatico.
We detrained at Farragut North; everyone was patient. The chanting—“no hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here!”—started at the station. We walked through Farragut Square toward the White House. When I arrived, around 1 p.m., the crowd was big but not quite huge. The inaugural reviewing stand is still up, so people couldn’t congregate directly in front of the White House. People gathered in Lafayette Park and in front of the Treasury Building, the very first building just east of the White House.
There were signs of all kinds. People wearing yellow stars labeled “Jude,” making the obvious historical echo. Chants bubbled up and faded away; the best, the most unexpected one, went something like “ho ho, hey hey, welcome to your ninth day.” It meant, of course, that we’re going to be in President Trump’s face the whole time. We’ve got 1,452 to go, if he lasts four years.
It’s shocking, what has happened. I can’t even list all the abominations perpetrated in those mere nine days, but I don’t need to. You know them. To those who say, “Well, this is what he campaigned on, why are you surprised,” the answer is this. Yes, he campaigned on these things. But he didn’t tell us he was going to execute them via slapdash executive orders cranked out of the West Wing office currently occupied by a white supremacist without anything remotely like the normal inter-agency review process.
If changing the immigration laws is what you want to do, there are other ways to do it, ways that are normal, ways that tell the American people that you respect our institutions and processes. The State Department—the State Department!—didn’t even see the final draft of the immigration order. Neither, according to NBC, did Homeland Security or Justice.
Trump also didn’t campaign by telling people that if a judge issued an order blocking implementation of something he wanted, he would order his administration to ignore it, placing the administration in violation of the law on its eighth day in office.
But Trump has done these things, and many more, because it is precisely his point, and Steve Bannon’s, to disrespect the institutions of government. Process and institutions mean nothing to him. He is a thug, and he knows only thuggish-ness. Adam Gopnik shared a profound insight in a recent New Yorker piece. He was reflecting on the question of how Trump can lie so brazenly, about thing like millions of illegal votes, even when everyone knows they’re lies. When he lies like that, Gopnik wrote, people “aren’t meant to believe it; they’re meant to be intimidated by it.” The more he can discredit the idea that there is such a thing as objective truth, the more he can convince enough gullible people that madness is sanity.
So it is with orders like this one. It is meant to intimidate. And it is working, with one important group. Almost all Republicans have responded to Trumpismus (that’s the German, which seems appropriate) with staggering cowardice. House Speaker Paul Ryan, who had denounced this idea back when people were laughing at Trump, endorsed it Friday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell danced around it Sunday morning.
The tragedy is that the rest of us are, of necessity, counting on them. They have the majorities in Congress. Democrats can block some things, but they can’t call for investigations or subpoena anybody. Do Ryan and McConnell have any principles that mean more to them than maintaining power? Do they have any honor? We will surely find out.
We will find out, too, about people like Gen. James Mattis, widely respected to this point, but a man who stood there behind Trump applauding as he signed the order. And we’ll find out about career government people who’ve admirably dedicated their lives to the institutions that Trump will trample if need be without the slightest thought. Everyone can’t up and quit a job, of course. People have kids to feed. But these folks have to know that the future stability of this country as the place we’ve known truly might depend on them saying “enough.”
But there is another group, and a much larger one, that is not intimidated. On Sunday afternoon I was honored to be with some of them, who arrived spontaneously, as people had at our major airports the night before, with nothing but their voice and their conviction and their will to announce that they will not be intimidated. And I report to you happily that by the time I left, the crowd was much larger.
I remember that when I started reading history seriously when I was 17, 18 that I was astonished that people could not recognize in the moment the enormity of the events they were living. No one in the United States today surely has any excuse, any reason not to understand that this is a clarifying moment. Let us all act with the clarity the moment demands.