Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Responding to the New Administration

So far I would say that Trump's term in office has gone pretty much as I expected; I mean, he has been feuding with the press for decades and said loud and clear that he would seek a way to ban Muslim immigrants. (Which incidentally is not an unpopular view; if you ask the question right you can get a majority of Americans to endorse such a ban.) Some observers look at what is happening and see four years of incompetent mayhem followed by a landslide loss at the polls and a collective sigh of relief. Others see an alarming trajectory toward either autocracy or national calamity. I thought this from Eliot Cohen came close to what I am thinking:
This is one of those clarifying moments in American history. There is nothing to fear in this fact; rather, patriots should embrace it. The story of the United States is, as Lincoln put it, a perpetual story of “a rebirth of freedom” and not just its inheritance from the founding generation.

Some Americans can fight abuses of power and disastrous policies directly—in courts, in congressional offices, in the press. But all can dedicate themselves to restoring the qualities upon which this republic, like all republics depends: on reverence for the truth; on a sober patriotism grounded in duty, moderation, respect for law, commitment to tradition, knowledge of our history, and open-mindedness. These are all the opposites of the qualities exhibited by this president and his advisers. Trump, in one spectacular week, has already shown himself one of the worst of our presidents, who has no regard for the truth (indeed a contempt for it), whose patriotism is a belligerent nationalism, whose prior public service lay in avoiding both the draft and taxes, who does not know the Constitution, does not read and therefore does not understand our history, and who, at his moment of greatest success, obsesses about approval ratings.

He will do much more damage before he departs the scene, to become a subject of horrified wonder in our grandchildren’s history books. To repair the damage he will have done Americans must give particular care to how they educate their children, not only in love of country but in fair-mindedness; not only in democratic processes but democratic values. Americans, in their own communities, can find common ground with those whom they have been accustomed to think of as political opponents. They can attempt to renew a political culture damaged by their decayed systems of civic education, and by the cynicism of their popular culture. . . .
Trump, says Cohen, will grab for power but not succeed:
In the end, however, he will fail. He will fail because however shrewd his tactics are, his strategy is terrible—The New York Times, the CIA, Mexican Americans, and all the others he has attacked are not going away. With every act he makes new enemies for himself and strengthens their commitment; he has his followers, but he gains no new friends. He will fail because he cannot corrupt the courts, and because even the most timid senator sooner or later will say “enough.” He will fail most of all because at the end of the day most Americans, including most of those who voted for him, are decent people who have no desire to live in an American version of Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey, or Viktor Orban’s Hungary, or Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

There was nothing unanticipated in this first disturbing week of the Trump administration. It will not get better. Americans should therefore steel themselves, and hold their representatives to account. Those in a position to take a stand should do so, and those who are not should lay the groundwork for a better day. There is nothing great about the America that Trump thinks he is going to make; but in the end, it is the greatness of America that will stop him.
Trump is going to be Trump. We elected him, and we are stuck with him until either his term ends or he gets caught at such disturbing high crimes and misdemeanors that the whole Congress turns against him. What matters in the long run is how we choose to respond. If we stand up forcefully for freedom and fairness, and against bullying and lies, the Republic will endure and may even grow stronger. If we respond by spewing hatred against each other and latching onto any tactic that seems to help our side no matter how vile, we will only sink deeper in the swamps that spawned this regime in the first place, and recovery will take decades.


Unknown said...

I realize there's been a fair amount of hostility and denigration from the Left toward the Right, but if Trump gets in real trouble, I think it's his supporters that are going to bring out the real ugliness. After all, their movement is to a large extent founded on the valorizing of aggression.

leif said...

Indeed. Cohen's position is stunningly ignorant of the lead-in to the holocaust. He should be reminded that Right Wing Authoritarians (see Bob Altemeyer's books for my definition) are not just those who perpetrate these acts, but are also those who sit idly by and hope that zipped lips won't sink ships.