The last election leaves the majority of voters facing grave alternatives in responding to the election of Donald Trump. One understandable reaction has been to deny his legitimacy as president-elect altogether, as expressed by the slogan #NotmyPresident. Though there are valid political and moral arguments to support such a stance, it is, as I have written in previous posts, very unwise. We have now been through a series of presidential elections the outcomes of which have been decried as illegitimate by different sectors of the electorate. If this trend continues there is a strong possibility that it will eventually be impossible to convince a critical mass of the populace that the president wields legitimate authority at all, and the system will finally collapse.
This does not mean, however, that we are forced to simply accept the results of the most recent election fatalistically. Trump's transgressions and provocations demand resistance. Thus it is incumbent upon those who recognize the threat that Trump represents to find an idiom of resistance that will produce constructive results. In this regard, it is possible for us to accede to Trump's legitimacy as POTUS but to deny him the power to normalize the aberrant political values and practices that have come to embody "Trumpism."
Such resistance, begins, of course, with the defense of basic constitutional safeguards. If Trump should try to institute genuinely illiberal policies (for example, a mandate that Muslim-Americans register in a special database) opposition must be total and unequivocal: noncompliance and civil disobedience are the only response. But resistance should not and cannot await such blatant provocations. We must begin by opposing subtle shifts in values and practices that, even if Trump should refrain from material assaults on civil rights, would corrode the austerity, credibility, and coherence of our basic institutions.
Trump's appointment of Stephen Bannon to the post of "chief strategist" exemplifies such a shift in standards. Bannon has (or does a credible job of pretending to have) a substantial world view, one that has elements that will appeal to working class voters and even to some progressive activists. But as editor of Breibart News, Bannon has associated with and given encouragement to some of the most toxic elements at the margins of American politics. The excuses he makes for the presence of anti-Semites, racists, homophobes and misogynists among his colleagues can only seem plausible and reassuring to someone who is not directly threatened by such figures. Moreover for someone who approved the publication of headlines such as "Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive And Crazy," "Hoist It High And Proud: The Confederate Flag Proclaims A Glorious Heritage," "The Gun Control Movement's Human Shield" (about former Representative Gabby Giffords), and "Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew" to seek broad mainstream acceptance would have been unthinkable even a few weeks or months ago, much less an official position inside the house of Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt. No conscientious citizen should treat the presence of Bannon in the White House as tolerable, and we must exert relentless pressure on the Trump administration to repudiate him. This is not a call for petty "political correctness," but a defense of the fundamental standards of civic decency and fairness.
Even if we can prevent Trump from warping the gauge of civic virtue, the alteration that he has induced in the climate of political rhetoric will be difficult to redress. When President Obama declared that Mr. Trump was "unfit for office" many of us were (and still are) inclined to agree. But it cannot foster broad confidence in our institutions when, in the conventional course of the "peaceful transfer of power," voters see the same President that had declared Mr. Trump "unfit" reassure them that their future was secure in the new President-elect's hands. This, moreover, is just an inkling of what we may have in store. When Trump declared his opponent the "most corrupt person ever to run for president" and President Obama the "founder of ISIS" he was a private citizen. When he runs for re-election, what might Mr. Trump say as POTUS, and how completely will it undermine his credibility when it comes his turn to relinquish power?
We are compelled to concede that Donald J. Trump is legitimately President-elect of the United States. But we are not compelled to admit that any aspect of the values or practices he brings to that office are proper, tolerable or fair. As citizens we have to vigilantly observe Mr. Trump's conduct and ideals, and by word and deed we must make clear that his breaches of procedure, decorum, and decency are #NotNormal, and never will be.