Confusion, disbelief, anxiety, anger, and fear are staple emotions for many since Donald Trump was introduced to the U.S. political landscape. Comedians, political analysts, academics, and even our grandmothers have been waking up each day asking, “Oh God, what is Trump going to do today?”
The president has scorched progress on issues many of us care about and seems to relish watching folks run around putting out fires in all corners, often inducing a degree of vertigo or political paralysis. Make no mistake: Donald Trump, like historic dictators in their early years of leadership, is attempting to dismantle our democratic norms and institutions.
Look at the evidence. He has accused U.S. intelligence officials of being behind a Nazi-like smear campaign against him. Trump’s disrespect of iconic civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) was a shameful snub of U.S. history. He shockingly dismissed war hero Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), telling us he preferred those “who weren’t captured,” and he continues to aggressively attack our free press by referring to them as “fake news,” among other things. It seems no one is safe, regardless of ideological bent.
Trump last Tuesday fired FBI Director James Comey, who was leading a high-profile criminal investigation into possible illegal and un-American collusion between Russia and officials from the president’s campaign. Apart from being reported as a “grotesque abuse of power,” Comey’s dismissal will send a paralyzing message to all law enforcement agencies in Washington, D.C., and across the country.
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Press freedoms are under attack now, more than ever.
I have spent the last four-plus years working with national, state, and local law enforcement leadership around our nation in an effort to reduce gun violence. I can tell you, like it or not, that Comey was seen as the most powerful and respected law enforcement leader in the country by most, if not all, of those I encountered. One can only imagine the disbelief permeating conversations among chiefs of police and national agency leaders around the country right about now. If Trump can stomp on a guy with such a big national footprint, then who is really safe? It would take a brave patriot to risk their job and reputation to become a genuine truth-seeking special prosecutor at this time.
Apart from courage, a special prosecutor needs to know how to conduct a credible investigation. This person, generally a U.S. attorney or prosecutor, would not only need to know the law but should possess strong knowledge of finance and foreign affairs, given the nature of the issues at hand. They must not be afraid of assertively using subpoena authority to get to the truth. It’s a tall order to fill, indeed.
Furthermore, it’s hard to see how agency leaders would be eager to assist any special prosecutor in aggressively investigating alleged Russian collusion if they may be putting their own careers in jeopardy as well. Conversely, one has to wonder whether federal agents sick of being poked by Trump are now even more motivated to help conduct an aggressive and robust investigation. Either way, to be most effective, they would need an absolutely fearless special prosecutor whom they can get behind.
Our chances of getting one depend firmly on the U.S. public’s ability to keep the pressure on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to make that appointment happen. In fact, we need all hands on deck reaching out to congressional leaders demanding they put country before party. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) may have captured the challenge to Republican leadership best when he recently said on the Senate floor, “I remind [McConnell] and my Republican friends that nothing less is at stake than the American people’s faith in our criminal justice system and the integrity of the executive branch of our government.”
But that’s not enough. We need to take our outrage to the streets. We need a full-throated, coordinated campaign that all organizations working on immigration, climate, reproductive rights, election reform, health care, economic growth, or public education issues can opt into—without sacrificing their primary mission—to create a unified, forceful collective response to this frightening threat to our democracy. Funders should consider collectively directing some resources to assemble a lean and nimble national organizing team that would act as the temporary vehicle to coordinate messaging, provide logistical help, and offer targeted support to local, state, and national groups willing to aggressively join this fight. This effort would not mandate a lockstep approach, but rather could offer willing organizations an opportunity to affect this appointment by opting into a shared strategy.
As we look to come together, it’s important to remember that centrists are also gasping at this latest splash into unchartered political waters. Heck, even GOP leaders like Sen. Richard Burr (NC), chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said he was “troubled by the timing and reasoning” behind the president’s firing of Comey.
One can’t help but think how many fair-minded people who were not fans of Hillary Clinton share similar concerns over this state of affairs. Those on the left may feel they have a responsibility to keep the pressure on what many consider a dangerous administration, but this latest fiasco crosses the partisan line; it needs attention from both sides of the aisle. Most would agree that securing support from the political center on any issue increases the likelihood of success. In this case, broad support for the appointment of a qualified special prosecutor is critically necessary and actually within reach. We just need to do the work, and fast.
Simply put, one does not have to be “political” to understand that Trump’s firing of the FBI chief during a historic criminal investigation of people in the White House is not only wrong but is also an abuse of the power by the office of the presidency. This latest attack on our democratic institutions is neither liberal nor conservative. It’s just un-American.
It’s time we expand the organizing umbrella to include a large and broad enough force that not only puts out all the individual fires in our respective communities, but stops the flame thrower in his tracks altogether.
If we don’t, we will regret it.