Regarding the Feb. 13 front-page article “Trump tests limits of executive power in settling scores”:

The assault by the president on our institutions is about more than the separation of powers. It goes straight to the heart of our identity and success as a nation. Historian Jill Lepore noted that the United States may have come into the nation-state business backward, forming a nation from a collection of states whose identity was not common ethnicity but a unique method of governing. When people join the American project, either by immigration or birth, they have signed on to a venture that promises a well-functioning government that will protect their rights in exchange for loyalty. The United States is in a sense a “state-nation” as opposed to a “nation-state” and relies on the proper functioning of our institutions to cohere. 

Francis Fukuyama similarly noted that “liberal democracy cannot exist without a national identity that defines what citizens hold in common with one another.” If the American identity is our method of governing, our institutions are even more important to our cohesion as a country. As they are damaged, so is our ability to coexist as Americans.

Keith Mines, Alexandria

In her Feb. 14 Friday Opinion essay, “The administration’s Kafkaesque new way to thwart visa applicants,” Catherine Rampell described a new administrative practice to keep immigrants from getting visas. If a space on the application form is left blank, the application will be rejected; for example, if an applicant has no middle name, the applicant must fill in the space with “none” rather than leave it blank.

These practices are reminiscent of those used in World War II to keep Jews and other refugees from emigrating to the United States. Breckinridge Long, an anti-Semite in charge of the visa program, wrote in a memo that officials could be directed to “put every obstacle in the way and to require additional evidence and to resort to various administrative devices which would postpone and postpone and postpone.” Long wrote in his diary that the new policies were “practically stopping immigration.”

David Heymsfeld, Arlington

Regarding the Feb. 14 news article “Trump surrogates take aim at Buttigieg’s sexual identity”:

Given a choice between a mature, well-grounded, articulate, intellectual gay man in a loving marriage and an immature, erratic, inarticulate, intellectually challenged womanizer who brags about grabbing those of the opposite sex by their private parts for our most critical national leadership position — well, have I given away my answer?

John Swenson, Staunton