Donald Trump is not the usual president-elect. He was elected by those who want a drastic change in government, those who want to ‘shake up’ the status quo.
Bernie Sanders also promised change. People are not pleased with the current state of government, of the economy, of life in these United States. A periodic shake-up is good for a democracy.
But this time we have a baby/bathwater problem.
Trump seems to be uniquely unqualified for the office. He shows no interest in learning the actual duties of being president. He does not listen to intelligence sources; he seem to distrust any established procedures or experts, and he excoriates the press. He reacts in a childish and vindictive manner to the slightest criticism. He delighted in the discovery that there is an exception in the conflict-of-interest law that applies to the President, and seems to think that means that ethics in general do not apply to him. He has been characterized as a narcissist, and he has done nothing to cast doubt on that characterization.
Half the population is terrified. Trump has shown basic ignorance of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and seems to want to roll back the basic civil rights that people have fought very hard for in the last hundred years. It’s not all Trump’s fault; the Republican party seems to have been taken over by religious extremists who think Science is a matter of opinion. Economic gain by the economic elite is paramount; the environment is only important insofar as it represents a resource to be exploited.
Trump’s nominees for various cabinet positions have not be reassuring. Most either know nothing about their department, or are actively antagonistic towards their department’s mission. Virtually all have major conflicts of interest, but are being rushed through with no opportunity for examination. We are hiring foxes to guard the henhouse.
We have reason to be alarmed. But not just because of Trump himself. We can survive Trump. People wanted change, and they’re getting it. But this has happened before. Every election offers an opportunity to change course. It is part of a being a democracy.
What alarms me, far more than Trump himself, is the behavior of Congress. It is complicit in the dissolution of the checks and balances outlined in the Constitution. Congress is supposed to serve as a check on the President’s power. Instead, the Republican party, seemingly delirious in their control of both the legislative and executive branches of government, are taking this opportunity to ram through their agenda — to the detriment of the country itself and its citizens (except perhaps the richest citizens). Congress is ignoring the autocratic tendencies of Trump; even feeding his ego. Foxes are guarding the henhouse.
What is normalization? This election, this presidency, is not normal. Yet I don’t think that is the important ‘not normal’. It would be satisfying to make fun of Trump, to call him names, to refuse to listen to him. And yet, that is simply descending to his level of petty. What is important?
I believe in the Constitution, in the checks and balances that have guided this country since they were adopted. The US, as a country, often heads down an unwise path. It rarely does the best thing. But it also has the ability to correct itself. There is a pendulum swing. It rarely goes so wrong that correction is impossible. That is the strength of our Constitutional government.
And that is what I see in peril. Congress and Trump are acting in a remarkably un-American fashion. The President is not a king, or a dictator, or even a CEO. The President is deliberately just a temp — 4 years, with an option to renew employment for a second 4 years. Congress is supposed to restrain his power (and the executive branch is supposed to restrain the power of Congress). But Congress is ignoring its duty.
That is the normalization we need to fight. Boycotting the inauguration is an easy symbolic act. Annoying Trump is emotionally satisfying. But what we need to do is insist that Congress perform its duty; it must thoroughly vet each of Trump’s nominees, and hold them to the most rigorous standards. It must stop Trump from acting for personal gain, or from doing anything that contravenes the Constitution. It must enforce the emoluments clause. It must insist that Trump follow the anti-nepotism rules, and that his nominees, who ARE subject to conflict of interest laws, are free of those conflicts. It must make sure that the basic civil rights of ALL people are protected. It must hold fast to our international obligations, or far from “making America great again”, Trump will show the world that America is a lying bully and an undependable ally.
This we cannot normalize.