I have a lot of respect for Paul Krugman; in fact, he’s my favorite New York Times columnist. He not only makes me think, but he’s usually right, and I’ve almost never seen him make a fallacious or dubious argument. His latest op-ed in the Times, “When the fire comes“, takes up an issue that many of us have thought about, but few of us have thought through: what will happen if we have a 9/11 style terrorist attack during the Trump administration? Krugman begins by stating the palpable truth:
We’re only three weeks into the Trump administration, but it’s already clear that any hopes that Mr. Trump and those around him would be even slightly ennobled by the responsibilities of office were foolish. Every day brings further evidence that this is a man who completely conflates the national interest with his personal self-interest, and who has surrounded himself with people who see it the same way. And each day also brings further evidence of his lack of respect for democratic values.
He then argues that Trump will not only mishandle such an attack, which is likely given his bellicose nature and kneejerk style, but that he also welcomes such an attack as a way to show his power. (This is the “come at me, bro” style of politics.) His example is this tweet by Trump, which, says Krugman, shows Trump’s “palpable eagerness to see an attack on America, which would show everyone the folly of constraining his power.”
Never mind the utter falsity of the claim that bad people are “pouring in,” or for that matter of the whole premise behind the ban. What we see here is the most powerful man in the world blatantly telegraphing his intention to use national misfortune to grab even more power. And the question becomes, who will stop him?
Krugman argues that we can’t count on the legislators—unless some Republicans manage to grow a spine—and the judiciary isn’t all that reliable, either. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is on Trump’s side, and although the courts have reined in Trump’s immigration order, Krugman says that Trump is busy “de-legitimizing” them. Well, I do have more hopes for the courts (but not the Republican Congress) than does Krugman, if for no other reason than federal judges don’t have to run for re-election and have more freedom to vote their conscience.
But in the end, Krugman makes a dire prediction when pondering how to stop Trump:
In the end, I fear, it’s going to rest on the people — on whether enough Americans are willing to take a public stand. We can’t handle another post-9/11-style suspension of doubt about the man in charge [he’s referring here to our misplaced trust in the Bush administration after 9/11]; if that happens, America as we know it will soon be gone.
He’s right, I think, and I believe I said something similar on Election Day. It’s up to us, and maybe even that won’t be enough. But we may get some help from the courts.