2016 election, Barack Obama, Constitution, Donald Trump, electoral college, Hillary, Hillary Clinton, legitimacy, Paul Gies, politics, President, President Trump, Saturday Night Live, supreme court, Vanity Fair
There are five of everything: that’s one of Paul’s Rules of Life. And there are five chief ways in which one could react to the phrase “President-Elect Donald Trump.”
- One could be a Trumpster. That would at the very least mean gloating over supporters of the tired lady illustrated above. One would be planning a vacation to Arizona or New Mexico to view the new Great Wall, with a side trip to whatever super-max federal prison was housing, in a loose-fitting orange pantsuit, the tired lady illustrated above. One would be anticipating the annihilation of ISIS, the exile of all US Muslims, and the victorious return of millions of American jobs from China. One would have ignored (unlike John Oliver, for instance) Donald’s remarks during his “victory tour” to the effect that talk about “draining the swamp” and “locking her up,” in the Pred-Elect’s formulation, “played well before the election” but were to be forgotten now. One would be “taking him seriously but not literally,” perhaps, unlike the pundits and journalists and opponents, who took him literally, but not seriously. One would eventually be in for rather a disappointment, when one still did not have a high-paying and cushy job, and when one realized that Hillary Clinton remained unindicted, China retained its trade surplus on us, and Muslims still existed in at least the blue states. Hopefully, one would not have committed any victory-inspired atrocities in the meantime.
- One might be in the shoes of a woman from York PA, interviewed this past week on NPR’s Morning Edition, a pro-lifer who had come to respect President Barack Obama. She had voted for McCain and felt bad when he lost, but Obama had won her over, and in 2016 she “hesitated” about voting for Donald. But she did, and I’ve been thinking about this interview all week, even though I detest voter interviews. She wasn’t stupid or doctrinaire; on the contrary, she sounded very educated and reasonable, and she had talked herself into voting for the T Man because he would appoint a Scalia-like replacement for Scalia (and for any other justice who should retire in the coming years). She was one of the millions of pro-life voters who were essentially blackmailed into voting for a guy who isn’t really pro-life or anything else politically, who’s on his fourth marriage (after the first three ended in affairs), who has been bankrupt again and again, and not just morally, who has cheated working people and contractors, whose conflicts of interest tower over his coming presidency, who has glorified hatred and intolerance and a truly deplorable attitude toward women, who really should have been forced from the campaign after mocking a disabled reporter, whose relationship with the truth is demonstrably distant, and who has shown a vindictive streak that shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near nuclear weapons. Okay. I’m sorry, Woman from York, but you should have known better. It’s your f**king fault. It was hilarious listening to you rationalize what I know you know was the wrong vote. Guess what? I have to live with your decision.
- Or one could just accept the situation and plan opposition to whatever the next president might do that seems worth opposing. One could call upon others to accept the decision of the American people—well, not the majority, anyway—well, not even the most American people of any candidate, because the tired lady illustrated above won 2.6 million more votes—well, the decision of the majority of electors. Because that’s sort of the same as a majority, except not really. And one could ignore the fact that the above is exactly what the vast majority of Republican office-holders didn’t do when Barack Obama was elected (with the most votes… with, in fact, more votes in either of his elections than Hillary Clinton got in 2016, which was more than Donald got by, yes, 2.6 million votes, over 2%).
- One could call for recounts, plead with electors, or write one’s congressperson in an effort to get them to impeach our clearly unqualified and already fully corrupted pres-elect. One would be in for further disappointments: the recounts aren’t going to change anything; one isn’t going to persuade 10% of the Republican electors to vote against the majority in their states, and one is not going to get articles of impeachment through the Republican-controlled house, not until Don has had a chance to really screw us over.
- One can call it like it really is: we have an illegitimate president. He’s going to be, legally, president of the United States; it’s not that, according to the rules of the system, he isn’t really President, it’s that the system has gone so out of whack that it doesn’t legitimize him to say he is really president.
The system has been askew for decades; in some ways, it’s always been askew, and the original sin (related to that other American constitutional original sin, slavery) was the Electoral College. Then there was Citizens United; then there was the implacable, conspiracy-theory-fed Republican opposition to Obama (which was just a more virulent form of the implacable, conspiracy-theory-fed Republican opposition to Bill Clinton). The politicization of the Supreme Court is new and completely unintended by the framers of the Constitution, who would never have imagined we would leave a seat on the Court empty for a full year simply because there was an election coming up. The politicization of the redistricting process is almost as old as the Republic, but has gained new horror as most of the House of Representatives, and a startling number of Senate seats, have become “safe” for one party or the other, meaning that winning the primary, by turning out true believers, has become more important than persuading moderates to cross over in the general election.
But the way Mr. T overran the Republican primaries (appealing to the basest instincts of zealous right-wing opponents of immigration, Obamacare, and gun control) and then finagled an electoral college win by manipulating pious pro-life voters like York Woman, and making typically Trumpian promises to desperate members of the proletariat in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan, showed those flaws in sharp relief.
Our system looks like Rome’s Senatorial system—under the later Emperors. Trump is no Septimius Severus (who presumably would have merited a purple heart on his own), but he’s managed to take control of a large and powerful nation whose instability is no longer entirely held under control by a constitution from the eighteenth century, a legal code that is trapped by gridlock, and a set of assumptions about presidential behavior that look great as they fly out the window and flutter away on the breeze.
Release tax returns? Every Republican candidate and every Democratic candidate since 1980 has; not Trump. Follow the usual conflict of interest procedures? Not Trump. Hold press conferences, as Barack Obama has, monthly? Nope. No press conferences. But of course tweeting about his mistreatment at the hands of Vanity Fair or Saturday Night Live; hawking his hotels during pre-presidential events; bringing his kids to meetings with ambassadors and tech executives; appointing people whose own conflicts of interest match Trump’s; mocking his own intelligence community; even, basically, joking in front of friendly crowds about how he really didn’t mean any of the things he said that got them cheering two months ago (and having them cheer him again): very, very Trump.
It’s hard to maintain one’s outrage. One develops a sort of outrage fatigue. The phrase “new normal” starts to haunt one’s dreams.
So in response, I think the proper approach is to acknowledge the obvious: the system has failed. We have chosen, I don’t even want to say elected, a president who simply doesn’t count. If majorities of voters in Pennsylvania, Florida and Michigan jumped off the Empire State Building, would you jump off the Empire State Building? Well, I won’t. I can’t do anything about it just yet—keep your powder dry, people—but I think it’s vital to go into the (erk) Trump presidency with this in mind.
Donald Trump is our first truly illegitimate president. From the manipulations from Russian hackers, Wikileaks, and the FBI, through the general dissolution into partisan gridlock of our republic’s legal structures, to the trampling of norms against, say, threatening opponents with jail, inciting supporters to violence, following conflict of interest standards, and treating one’s office with respect, it’s clear that this guy is not like the others. Systems aren’t perfect any more than people are perfect; it’s no use pretending they are.
And our system has run off the rails. At some point, we’re going to have to build a new set of rails and put a new system on them, but for now, all we can do is accept—that, basically, when Barack H. Obama leaves the White House on 20 January 2017, the position of legitimate POTUS will be effectively empty.
Sorry about the system. Wish it hadn’t come out this way. But never fear. We’ll make another one, once everyone else notices that this one isn’t going anymore.
Thoughts? Bricks? Yes-ands?