Whenever I get the urge to recreate, I lie down until it goes away
This will explain TMR’s ‘radio silence’ since the morning of Wednesday, November 9th, a conscious decision to let time pass before sharing thoughts on the implications of this barrier-breaking, bottom-feeding campaign, and the global context in which it unfolds. It is an amalgam of a cooling-off and a gestation period, arising from the wise counsel embroidered on a pillow in Alice Roosevelt Longworth’s upstairs sitting room:
“If You Can’t Say Something Good About Someone, Sit Right Here by Me”
The urge to join the chorus of decriers and disbelievers has been fierce, but has been counterbalanced by the simple eloquence of Michelle Obama’s 11th commandment:
“When they go low, we go high.”
Several weeks ago TMR made this observation: “In five weeks from Tuesday, the country will hold an election fraught with as much consequence as any in its history, perhaps more.”
Today, our task is to put some meat on those bones, to provide some perspective on why the claim was neither hyperbole nor merely an expression of partisanship.
So here goes.
Election 2016 was a competition unlike any in our history: not the standard contest between dueling political philosophies — a Republican-conservative and a Democratic-liberal — but between the forces for a liberal democratic order and the voices and instruments of illiberalism.
In prior elections, Americans have been offered a choice between conservative andliberal candidacies and visions: FDR v. Hoover; Dewey v. Truman; Ike v. Stevenson; JFK v. Nixon; Nixon v. Humphrey; Ford v. Carter; Carter v. Reagan; GHW Bush v. Dukakis; GHWB v. Clinton; Gore v. Bush; Obama v. McCain; Romney v. Obama.
But in this election, it was the agenda and the voice of the ‘alt-right’ (a useful but inchoate euphemism sorely in need of redefinition) in a hostile takeover of the GOP, which introduced America to something we’d seen in other countries but never at home.There have been similar players at the margins of American politics, but never at the center.
Despite having won the election — with more states but fewer voters — it is far from clear that this will turn out to have been a victory for the Republican Party, the institutional address once home to Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt. Dwight Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan.
This is now the party of Donald Trump, not Paul Ryan, and certainly not Mitch McConnell. And the fellow in the office next to the President is from Breitbart, not the American Enterprise Institute, the HooverInstitution, or — heaven forfend! — the Council on Foreign Relations.
Donald Trump’s election is a stark anomaly in American politics, an historic aberration that comes at a time when the power of populism and a tolerance for autocrat-authoritarians is making its way around the globe.
In that global context, his election fits a pattern. In the history of the American republic it does not.
Donald Trump is the first person to accede to the Oval office with no relevant political or public policy experience, no civic bona fides, and with an unapologetic unfamiliarity with the architecture of the presidency and the existential geopolitical issues and challenges.
Americans are on the verge of inaugurating a President who has steadfastly refused to adhere to practices and safeguards honored by his modern predecessors, including sharing tax returns and entering into agreements that assure a separation of public and private interest.
Why does this matter?
First, because it demonstrates a blatant disregard for precedent, which is central to the stability of the republic. Second, because it puts the appearance, if not the reality, of political corruption in the confines of the Oval Office. Third, because it shares shelf space with a Nixonian axiom that ‘if the President does it, it’s not unconstitutional.’
With all of this in mind, there are two categories of error to avoid during the transition and the first 100 days of a Trump presidency: first, responding to every jot, tittle, and Tweet that emanates from Trump Tower and Mar-a-Lago; and second, settling for Trumpian end-runs around the sanctity of the office.
On the former, ho-hum to Donald Trump’s reversion to form with flagrant prevarications about ‘millions of people who voted illegally,’ which merely reinforce what the past eighteen months have shown us: there will be no “New Trump,” and the silly and ‘crooked’ tweeting will be with us for as long as he is President.
On the former, the Senate should withhold approval of Trump’s cabinet nominees until some reasonable form of conflict-of-interest safeguard has been put in place. Period.
Despite the appearance of normalcy accompanying the restaging of The Apprentice for the formation of an administration — where “You’re hired” supplants “You’re fired” — tens of millions of Americans are dismayed, disquieted, depressed, and some are fearful of what lies in store with this presidency. They have good reason for harboring such concerns.
Nothing in Donald Trump’s victory expunges the unprecedented, repellent campaign he waged for nearly 18 months, nor the abhorrent ‘birther movement’ he sired early in President Obama’s presidency.
Whether he, his advisers, and his supporters understand, he begins his presidency in the dank confines of a deep well of disrespect earned through his invective of intolerance and thuggish behavior — a Pyrrhic strategy that will severely compromise his ability to govern and to survive the inevitable low points of a presidency.
This will be compounded by his inability to deliver the goods he’s promised the Rust Belt and Coal Country and to make good on the threats he’s made to trading partners to the south and east of our shores.
In the meantime, we are embarked upon a beta test of sorts, the first occasion in the lifetime of anyone alive today to determine whether the framers in Philadelphia have given us a bulwark against illiberalism or whether it is possible to mount an autocratic hijacking of the republic.
We should neither assume that a Trump presidency will be of that character nor ignore signals suggesting that it might: elements of both are visible. In the meantime, we are well advised to accept that we are in ‘uncharted territory’ where vigilance trumps trust until such time as the record shows otherwise.
Just as people of faith turn to Scripture in troubled times, this is an opportune moment for democrats to revisit the Federalist Papers — a series of eighty-five separate essays crafted nearly 230 years ago by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison — under the pseudonym, Publius. These founders set about to persuade the citizenry to ratify the Constitution, and as the venerable historian Richard B. Morris wrote, [the Papers were] “an incomparable exposition of the Constitution, a classic in political science unsurpassed in both breadth and depth by the product of any later American writer.”
Publius began Federalist 1 with an observation, which seems a fitting lens through which to view the road ahead:
It has been frequently remarked, that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not, of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend, for their political constitutions, on accident and force.