November 14, 2016

"A republic, if you can keep it."

Benjamin Franklin's response in 1787 to a question on whether we had a monarchy or a republic reminds us still of our civic obligations. The people, Franklin warned us, must be active citizens, not merely consenting to be governed but ongoing participants in the affairs of the nation.

Perhaps we can't keep it. We've just turned over the republic to an authoritarian, and the move to normalize him is underway. While this is understandable, we must meet it with an unyielding response.

We have elections, and they confer power. Our system and the rule of law means little if we do not accept the outcomes of democratic elections.

This is Lincoln's lesson: we cannot be a democracy if one-half of the country refuses to live with the other because of political disagreements, not matter how deeply felt.

But we have a new reality. We cannot sugarcoat the accession of Donald Trump if we are to remain true to our ourselves as democratic citizens of a great republic.

Our President-elect is a threat. Trumpism, the hateful rage that casts us against each other, must be continually rejected.

His conduct during this campaign was beneath the dignity of a great people. But it is not merely his lack of decorum that should worry us.

This is a man who advocated the unconstitutional and bigoted position that Muslim Americans should have to register with the government.

He defied legal norms by calling for the imprisonment of his political opponent.

He has incited his supporters to violence and encouraged, by his words and actions, white supremacists and anti-Semites, and embraced into his inner circle the worst kind of demagogues.

He has called for defying the 1st Amendment by promising to pursue journalists for doing their job.

He suggested we cast aside the 8th Amendment by arguing for the slaughter of the families of terrorists.

He just appointed an avowed bigot, Stephen Bannon, to a senior position in the White House.

His foul and dangerous utterances cannot be taken back and serve as reminders of his temperament.

The constitutional position to which this man has been elected confers power that he is not equipped by temperament or judgment to use.

And yet, our system does not confer some power in the presidency. It confers all executive power. The Constitution is clear: "The executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States."

There is only a dangerous road ahead with this man atop our constitutional system.

Yes, the Madisonian system of checks and balances can work to stymie an authoritarian like Trump. Presidents still must abide by the constitutional rules to pass a bill or make appointments to the judiciary and agencies. They must still contend with an independent Congress, judiciary, states, and the private sector.

There can be significant forces at work to prevent any President's worst excesses.

But the Madisonian system was created at a time without a standing army, a national security state, and a modern economy. Remember the White House staff don't require Senate confirmation and these are the people who an executive works with the closest.

And the checks and balances in our constitutional system can't stop a President from making the kind of ill-chosen comment or tweet that can send markets tumbling, allies scrambling, or embolden those who might do us harm.

Our duty as citizens is to protect our constitutional rights and to summon the will to make meaningful the Preamble of the Constitution, "We, the people."

As unsettling as it might be to the orderly transition of power and to order in general, I hope the Never Trump movement doesn't dissipate and doesn't yield. It is our Constitution.

Elections settle some things, not all things. We must resist the urge to accept our new President as a normal part of our political development. It is not more complicated that this: a President who takes and acts on advice given to him by a person such as Stephen Bannon is not to be trusted at all.

We will have to be vigilant and hold all elected officials to reject Trumpism in all of its forms. We will need a vigilant press that stays true to its calling.

We must allow compromise on policy when warranted but never forget the underlying nature of this presidency. A policy concession here and there or a smart appointment by the new President cannot erase the stain.

Trump and Trumpism must never become acceptable if we are to keep the republic.

Donald Trump, Stephen Bannon, Benjamin Franklin, transition

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