Thank you, President Trump: the best thing that's happened to the Rule of Law, journalism and humour since Watergate
- Subtitle: Law Law Land
I thought I would find other topics to write about in 2017, but as of mid-February, the political circus down south seems to be in some sort of chaotic freefall worthy of another kick at the column-writing can.
Whether it's alternative facts, fake news, Trump's battle with judges and courts or Trump's senior staff having surreptitious dealings with Russian intelligence agents prior to him becoming president (which the Republican-controlled Senate and House refuse to investigate), I think the world is seeing a slow-motion train wreck unfold on a daily basis. Complete with typos.
The tweet storm that erupted after a Washington State judge declared Trump's executive order banning people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. unconstitutional (the decision was upheld in the Ninth Circuit) has been a fascinating psychological study in authoritarianism and a lesson for all of us about the importance of impartial judges. Trump tweeted: "The opinion of the so-called judge, was essentially takes law enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned." "See you in court, the security of our nation is at stake," tweeted Trump, the man who had just lost in court.
Perhaps the most interesting tweet from Trump was that the judges should be blamed in the event of a terrorist attack in the United States: "Just cannot believe the judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and the court system…"
It's almost as if all Trump watches on TV are old episodes of Jack Bauer’s 24.
Despite how outrageous and indeed terrifying this all seems, we should be grateful for the rise of Trump and Trumpism in the U.S. Why? He's created a renewed interest in the Rule of Law and its importance in civil society as a check and balance to dictatorship, authoritarianism and, dare I say, stupidity. He's turned lawyers into freedom fighters and judges into heroes of common sense. Trump has single-handedly made being a member of the legal profession a "dream job" again in the same way that journalism was a dream job in the Watergate years. In many ways, there's a Rule of Law revolution going on in the U.S. and lawyers, judges and journalists are the vanguard of that revolution.
So, Mr. Trump, on behalf of lawyers and journalists around the world, thank you for your service!
Although the journalism profession was arguably lazy during the last U.S. election, it has found its mojo again under Trump. Whether it's The New York Times, the Washington Post, Dan Rather's outstanding Facebook posts or CNN, journalists are relentlessly investigating: the dealings between Russian spies and Trump’s senior officials before Trump became president (which has led to the resignation of Trump's chief security advisor, Michael Flynn); whether information the Russians hacked from Democratic Party servers was shared with the Trump organization; whether there was any sort of wink-wink nudge-nudge bargain about the lifting of sanctions against Russia by Trump; and whether there is something “compromising” involving Trump that the Russians have on him.
Trump denies all of this, calls it "fake news" and refuses to answer questions from news organizations he doesn't like. But even NBC's Morning Joe has found its quasi-journalistic legs by blacklisting Trump's spin doctor Kellyanne Conway from the show, not so much for her unethical plug of Ivanka Trump's clothing line on TV but for her blatant untruthfulness.
To top it all off, we have Trump's senior adviser, Stephen Miller, who not only continues to perpetuate alternative facts concerning voter fraud in the last election but said this on TV during the first week of February:
With lawyers and journalists now holding the U.S. Executive Branch to account (and protecting civil society and the Rule of Law in the process), we must also be grateful to Trump for what he has done for humorists, satirists, essayists, cartoonists and, of course, Saturday Night Live.
Political cartoonists are having the best days of their careers under Trump, particularly Barry Blitt of The New Yorker, who draws many of the magazine’s covers. Late-night talk show hosts such as Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers have become politically relevant. John Oliver has purchased commercial time on Fox News to educate Trump about nuclear weapons and foreign policy because, apparently, Trump’s policies are based on the last thing he watched on Fox.
Certainly, SNL saw a spike in ratings when Tina Fey was doing her phenomenal Sarah Palin impression during the U.S. election cycle of 2012, but Alec Baldwin's Donald Trump, Kate MacKinnon's Kellyanne Conway and Melissa McCarthy's Sean Spicer are making SNL part of the official opposition party in the United States. The fact that Trump regularly tweets his displeasure about the latest SNL sketches makes the show all the more politically relevant.
To misquote Gil Scott-Heron’s song, the revolution may not be televised, but it may well be LIVE FROM NEW YORK.
Tony Wilson is a franchise, licensing, and intellectual property lawyer at Boughton in Vancouver and an adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University. He is a regular business law columnist with The Globe and Mail and other publications. He is also the author of Manage Your Online Reputation, a book written to guide individuals and businesses on how to monitor and protect their personal and corporate reputations on social media. The views expressed are strictly those of Tony Wilson and do not reflect the opinions of the Law Society of British Columbia, CBABC, or their respective members.
Column: Letter from Law Law Land