What Can “We the People” Do in the Aftermath of Trump’s Election?

February 11, 2017

This presidential election left many shocked, upset, and worried.

Psychiatrists and psychologists saw an upsurge in depression. Part of the shock was because polls were so wrong that in the span of a few hours as the returns came in, the Trump effect melted away Clinton’s hopes and the hopes of most Democrats for the further development of a progressive agenda in our country.

In my office building, riding on the elevator, there have been a number of occasions where someone was in the elevator with me and, seeing the Hillary Clinton pin on my coat, started a conversation about how upset they are and how they cannot sleep at night and are fearful of what is going to happen in this country.

Tammy Duckworth, our newly elected junior Senator from Illinois, reported that the day after the election she was out in the city of Chicago to thank her voters and many of them came up to her crying and asking her for reassurance and a hug. They expressed their fear to her about what Donald Trump would do as president.

This is not a normal response to an election. If any other Republican had won, people would not be this fearful and disturbed.

Trump has used extremely divisive and harsh rhetoric that has ignited the alt-right and KKK. His picks for cabinet posts show that he has made a deal with right-wing Republicans to enact their agenda despite his populist rhetoric on the campaign trail. For their end of the deal, the Republican establishment ignores Trump’s ethics violations and even, perhaps, his collusion with Russia to win the election by hacking the Democrats and disseminating fake news.

Trump’s win has shaken our values and beliefs to the core. His actions and words go against so much of what we teach our children about how to behave: we tell our children not to insult others, not to cheat, not to lie, and to follow the rules and avoid even the appearance of impropriety. Trump does not follow the rules. He insults people and groups, he cheats, he lies, he refuses to release his taxes, and he is unwilling to divest himself of his business interests while serving as President of the United States.

The refusal to divest seems to be a clear violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution, which forbids the acceptance of gifts to a president from a foreign government. Some prominent legal scholars have filed a lawsuit alleging just that. The simpler remedy is impeachment, but Trump needn’t worry about that. As long as the Republicans in Congress are getting what they want from Trump’s presidency, they will ensure that Trump will not face any consequences from his conflicts of interest and ethics violations.

Trump admires Putin and other dictators and demagogues. There are serious questions and concerns about how much the Trump campaign may have colluded with the Russians, a foreign government hostile to the United States, to win this election. What was Trump appointee General Michael Flynn doing on the phone talking with operatives in Moscow the day before Obama sanctioned the Russians for cyber crimes? What are Trump’s financial ties or debts to Russian oligarchs? Trump refuses to share his tax returns with to the American people. What is he hiding?

Maryland Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis did not to go to the inauguration and has said he does not believe that Trump’s election is legitimate. President Obama has urged us to take the long view. He says that we should give Trump a chance because if he succeeds then we all succeed. While it is good to be open-minded, we should not be naïve. Trump is poised to become the first leader of our country who could radically alter our government by changing it into an “illiberal democracy.” Democracy relies on cultural norms of compromise and civility. Many of these norms already have been weakened by some congressional Republicans’ refusal to play by the rules these past eight years. Most notably, Republicans broke with tradition and norms by refusing to give Obama’s eminently qualified Supreme Court pick, Merrick Garland, so much as a hearing. This was part of a cynical plan that key Republicans agreed to immediately after Obama’s election—do everything possible to undermine the Obama presidency. Republicans became the party of “NO”, even shutting down government if they did not get their way. Compromise became a dirty word.

In an illiberal democracy, the supposedly popular vote to elect the leader is a sham because it is accompanied by the loss of freedoms and rights that are the hallmarks of a true democracy. The free press is usually the first casualty. News becomes mere propaganda rather than accurate and informative. That could happen here because Trump constantly excoriates the press and uses Twitter to avoid exposing himself to the press and their penetrating and uncomfortable questions. He tells his followers not to believe the mainstream media and demands that everyone accept his version of reality. He has chosen to instill Steve Bannon in the White House, a notorious purveyor of slanted news and misinformation who recently called the press the “real opposition” to the Trump administration. Trump surrounds himself with surrogates who apologize for his every move even if his action or statement is patently ill-advised. Remember when White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer insisted in a press briefing that Trump’s Inaugural crowds were larger than Barack Obama’s in 2008—notwithstanding irrefutable photographic evidence that the Obama Inauguration crowd far exceeded Trump’s?

In a true democracy, the President is always criticized. It is a First Amendment right that our press should exercise. But Trump is very thin-skinned, and he retaliates against people who say negative things about him. We will need to support journalists and newspapers that are reliable sources of information so that they are not compromised or shut down.

And there is more we can do.

One of the best ways to deal with worry or concern is to get active and “become the change we need.” On January 21, I participated in the Women’s March in Chicago. The crowd was expected to be 60,000 but is now estimated to have been over 250,000. There were over 600 marches across the country in every state and around the world on every continent—even Antarctica. Many of these gatherings had unexpectedly and remarkably large turn-outs. Although the feeling of the crowd was positive and cheerful, this extraordinary reaction to Trump and the Republicans is evidence of widespread pushback against the ideas, plans and values of this new administration. It is important that those who feel strongly about preserving our democracy stay active. Write letters and make calls to Members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, to insist on decency and fairness and initiatives that help all Americans. A public outcry can make a difference.

This election has been a wake-up call. For some of us it feels more like we woke up in the middle of a nightmare and can’t get back to reality. We can see that cherished institutions and beliefs, including civility and honesty, ethics, fair treatment, and truthfulness that are the hallmark and bedrock of our democracy and our workplaces, will be tested by this incoming administration.

Those of us in the cities also need to reach out across our divided country to listen and care about other Americans in red states and blues states no matter who they voted for. Those folks who think Trump will bring back their jobs in coal country and the rust belt are in for a big disappointment. It looks like they, along with millions of other Americans, could also lose their health insurance as Republicans rush to dismantle the Affordable Care Act without a viable replacement. People who voted for Trump thinking he was their populist hero are going to have a very tough time once Trump and the Republicans implement an agenda that rewards the one percent and removes supports and the way forward for everyone else. We are all going to have a difficult time of it if Trump’s many cabinet picks deconstruct the departments they are supposed to oversee, but they seem to be hand-picked to do just that.

In Hamilton, the musical, there is a line that is relevant for this moment in history: “Oceans rise. Empires fall.” Change is happening in our country. We really might fall. Those of us who want diversity, fairness and a progressive agenda stand to lose a lot with the Trump administration. “We the people” must do what has to be done in a vital, thriving democracy, namely participate and get engaged to preserve and protect the values and norms that have made our wonderfully diverse and open-minded country the envy of every other nation on earth.

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