The first American martyr of the new dictatorship

Even among her own colleagues there is some argument over how acting Attorney General Sally Q. Yates handled “President” Trump’s Muslim ban last weekend. (Yes, he can couch it in whatever Bannonesque terms he want to: it was a Muslim ban.)

Some of Ms. Yates’s associates have praised her courage and sense of fairness in standing up against an unjust executive order; but others—mostly but not exclusively Trump supporters—have suggested she could have approached it more moderately, even delayed the implementation of the ban without making much of a fuss. I don’t know.

Regardless of what she did, we know the upshot: a letter (text below) from one of Trump’s minions removing her from her position and branding her a traitor.

The removal was justified from a political perspective and maybe even a judicial one. I won’t argue that. But branding her a traitor was another instance of that Nixonian vengeance that served our 37th president so well—until he was driven from office. And in that respect I have a proposition: Sally Q. Yates should be the first recognized martyr of the Trump dictatorship.

Until now we have seen minorities suffering (look at the unprecedented rise in hate crimes since November 8) and watched countless attempts to erode free speech. We have seen the administration attempt to dismantle public education and (with the appointment of Jerry Falwell to lead the Higher Education Task Force!) dilute the effectiveness of colleges and universities. Health insurance changes will hurt millions, and the end of the TPP and NAFTA will create ripples in the economy for years to come. And as one highly respected columnist wrote yesterday,   wars—actual fighting wars—with countries as vast as China are no longer out of the question.

But despite all this there hasn’t been a face or a name to which we attach these atrocities. Now there is: Sally Yates.

This is not to detract from the tens of thousands of protesters who took to the streets this past weekend, or the three million or so marchers worldwide in the Women’s March on January 21. The images from those events and others will resonate for years. But the 56-year-old Yates, whose career has spanned almost three decades within the Justice Department, finds herself with the brand of traitor while the delusional Trump continues to cavort with the Russians, refuses to disclose his tax records, and follows the lead of Stephen Bannon, the alt-right Internet celebrity who spent half a decade impugning the birthright of the previous president.

I’m not good at initiating movements. I have no clever slogans. (Remember Sally Yates doesn’t have same cachet as Remember Pearl Harbor.) And I don’t want to overemphasize what she did, but she has spoken up for humanity, to wit, the United Nations says it needs around $1 billion to aid children displaced by six years of conflict in Syria. Yemen must feed 6.9 million; Iraq, five million. But Trump—who thinks the White House phones are pretty—trades campaign promises made in front of maniacal crowds for empathy.

Ms. Rice chose a different path. For speaking out against tyrannical, unjust, possibly unlawful, and clearly sociopathic orders, she deserves more than one day of headlines.




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