In a Trump administration where policy, on issues from taxes to education to the environment, is skewed sharply in favor of wealthy special interests and driven by officials who previously served as corporate lobbyists, and where the president himself mocks victims of sexual assault, makes common cause with racists, and seems to believe the justice system is his to manipulate for personal gain, it is unsurprising, but still appalling and alarming, that Trump and his underlings are aggressively pushing measures to stifle public protest and citizen participation in our democracy.
Start with a modest, but meaningful, example. Trump’s Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has not only stocked her senior staff roster with former officials of predatory for-profit colleges, but, forced to go through steps called “negotiated rule-making” before she can gut Obama-era rules aimed at protecting students, she has taken multiple steps to try to rig the process. In earlier meetings, she stacked the deck by filling as many negotiator slots as possible with executives of for-profit schools. Her aides also tried to block the public from live streaming the negotiator meetings on the Internet, until Department of Education lawyers told them that position was untenable. When DeVos issued her proposed rules, which gave the worst predatory schools everything they wanted, she gave the public only 30 days (mostly in August) to comment, instead of the usual 90 days.
For the latest rule-making round, announced Thursday, DeVos has eliminated negotiator spots for representatives of consumer organizations and state attorneys general — after people representing those interests acted as powerful advocates for pro-student, pro-taxpayer positions in the prior rounds, repeatedly demonstrating the bankruptcy of the Devos Department’s arguments. DeVos and her aides didn’t like hearing the truth, so they’ve eliminated the speakers. They’ve also barred the public from attending some of the meetings.
Second, a broader example, one that requires an urgent response from conscientious, freedom-loving citizens out there: The National Park Service is proposing new rules that would dramatically restrict the rights of people to hold protests in Washington, DC — barring demonstrations in front of the White House, prohibiting the use of sound systems and stages for spontaneous protests, and potentially charging high fees to stage marches and rallies.
These proposed rules would undermine our traditions of free speech and public protest. But they fit well with President Trump’s repeated attacks on people who question or demonstrate against, or even simply report on, his policies, pronouncements, and personnel. Trump doesn’t want to see protests, or have the world see protests, over his attacks on women’s rights, civil rights, LBGT rights; over his separation of parents and children at the border; over his refusal to act on climate change despite the violent storms ravaging our communities; over his efforts to undermine workers and unions; over his failure to seek reasonable gun controls; and much more. So his administration is working to curb demonstrations.
(Meanwhile, the law firm of Trump’s long-time personal attorney Marc Kasowitz is leading efforts to use anti-racketeering laws to sue Greenpeace and other groups associated with protests against energy pipelines and forest logging abuses.)
The public has only until this Monday, October 15, to tell the Park Service what you think about these anti-speech rules.
One more troubling example: Trump’s hand-picked candidate to be the Republican nominee for governor of Georgia, hard-line conservative Brian Kemp, currently serves as Georgia’s secretary of state. In that role, which includes overseeing state elections, Kemp seems to be doing everything in his power to dump people from the voter rolls for his general election contest next month against Democrat Stacey Abrams. Most recently, it was reported Kemp has frozen more than 53,000 voter registration applications — about 70 percent from African Americans — because of mostly minor discrepancies, such as a typo, between a voter’s registration info and that on their identification cards. Kemp also has purged some 1.5 million voters from rolls in recent years by labelling them “inactive.”
Kemp’s effort to cut from the voter lists people who may favor Democrats dovetails with efforts by other GOP politicians across the country to restrict voting rights, through measures like harsh “Voter ID” laws and restrictions on early voting.
If Trump and his allies are truly confident in the righteousness of their policies, why are they taking so many steps to stifle dissent, debate, and even the right to vote in our nation?