I was going to write a love letter to Manitoba, but recent news has got me upset. What happened with Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates was not the Saturday Night Massacre. Nixon was more subtle by comparison. The Trump administration had the constitutional right to remove Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates from her position for not following Trump’s executive order to ban Muslim immigration from seven countries, but there is absolutely no reason to tar and feather her by saying she “betrayed” the country and that she is “weak on borders and weak on illegal immigration.” The statement they issued was petty and vindictive, and they flaunt their authority over the justice system, completely ignoring the federal court orders to have the immigration ban stayed. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates cannot act on the executive order when federal courts are against it and the Supreme Court has not made a ruling on its legality.
As the top lawyer of the United States, it is not the attorney general’s job to agree with everything the president does. To do so would make the position technically moot. This also isn’t the first time an attorney general or a deputy attorney general has acted against a sitting president’s orders. James Comey famously went against the president’s wishes just a few years ago. Of course, many attorney generals go along with the administration’s wishes. After all, they get their by the administration’s recommendation. Eric Holder was extremely partisan and didn’t go after the big banks after the Obama administration mentioned that they weren’t looking to prosecute them. But while they are partisan appointees, their job is to uphold the law and make sure that the executive branch acts within the scope of the law. It is not the attorney general’s job to do something which they believe is illegal or somehow bend the rules to make them legal. They definitely can, and can be rewarded for being loyal partisan actors, but it’s blatantly unethical to relieve someone of their position for not doing something which they believe is illegal.
This constitutional duty to not blindly follow the leader but to follow the letter of the law as well as what is ethical is what allows me to sleep at night despite knowing that Trump has the nuclear codes. He may order a country to be bombed simply because a citizen there annoyed him on Twitter, but it is the officer’s as well as everyone else in the hierarchy’s duty to not follow his order if they deemed it illegal, immoral, or unethical. It is their civic duty to do so; and to follow the president’s order in such a case would be a dereliction of duty. This is what Trump asked Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates to do, to carry out an act which is in her opinion, an opinion based on a lifetime of working for the justice department, is both illegal and indefensible. It was her duty to refuse the president. And for that, she got sacked.
But really, what choice does she have. The Muslim ban is clearly a disaster and several federal court orders agree. It was an executive order that was hastily made without consultation from the president’s own top advisors. His own Secretary of Defense, General Mattis, does not support the order, and believes it endangers the troops he’s been recently made in charge of. As far as I can tell, the only people who were certainly in the room when Trump drafted the order was Stephen Miller, a young political operative with a racist history, and Steve Bannon, a publisher of a Web site frequented by neo-Nazis. They’re not exactly the people with the most expertise regarding immigration and national security. But then again, neither is Trump. The woman Trump fired had more years serving the public, more years keeping the country safe, than Trump.
And to those defending the Muslim ban, calling it a mere travel restriction, even Trump calls it a ban. And whatever name you call it, and even if you only limit it to those seven countries, it still affects Muslims. It still goes against the notion of having no religious test for the country. It flies in the face of common decency. The measure doesn’t make the US safer. It makes it harder for the military to gain allies in those seven countries and serves as a great recruitment tool for ISIS. But then again, what do expect from the great military expertise of Trump, Miller, and Bannon?
Sally Yates’ firing goes along with the message that the Trump administration is sending out. From journalists and employees at the National Park Service, to long-time government employees and officials- if you’re not with the Trump agenda, you should be fired. This is an amazingly flagrant display of authoritarianism.
It’s been a really dark few days. Even Canada has not been immune to Trump’s brand of intolerance. Quebec has been marred with tragedy, with the shooting of a mosque. And while some detractors will point out that Quebec has had a history of intolerance long before the Trump phenomenon, the shooter has been a part of the same alt-right movement which supports Trump.
It’s going to be a tiring few years. I believe the wave of bigotry will continue to wreak havoc long after we stopped getting daily bad news from Trump. There will be frequent protests and frequent outrages. Luckily, it is exactly during these times when people can become heroes by fighting injustice. Sally Yates will now be remembered as a hero. Honestly, I doubt if many people knew her name before she stood against Donald Trump. Now it’s time for people to go against him, take advantage of the growing rage against the US government’s recent actions, and make a name for themselves. If not because it is the right thing to do, but it is also good politics.