It’s time to help Donald Trump be a good president

Stop laughing, already; it isn’t funny anymore. It’s no secret that I opposed Donald Trump’s candidacy from the beginning to the end. My misgivings about his character, temperament, and qualifications remain. My precocious son, reading this over my shoulder, just asked me how much fallout shelters cost. But the election is over now, and we need to make an important distinction: how a patriotic citizen responds to a candidate, and how he responds to a president-elect.

If a citizen believes a candidate to be unfit for office — and also, that he’s even more unfit for office than the other candidates who are also unfit for office — then his patriotic duty is to oppose and vote against that candidate.

But the voters have now spoken in a free and fair election. Now, the citizen’s duty is to help the President be a good president, and to wield power wisely, justly, and effectively. That might mean opposing the President when he makes bad decisions. It also means helping the President to make the right ones, and to carry them out effectively. It doesn’t mean abandoning principle, or accepting words or actions the citizen believes to be unlawful, unconstitutional, or un-American. That is why we speak of a “loyal opposition.” That’s what makes democracy hard — too hard for some people. Too hard for the people who are protesting the fact that a majority of electors in a democracy are about to pick a candidate the protestors didn’t like.*

I have some news for those people — this year, most of us picked candidates we didn’t like. More than in any recent election in U.S. history, this election was about who we liked the least. That partially explains the low turnout. Some of my closest friends are good and decent people who didn’t so much vote for Trump as against Clinton. They aren’t bigots or alt-righters. Some believed Trump’s promise to appoint conservative justices to the Supreme Court, but for the most part, they just really disliked and distrusted her. I can see why. Those of us who remember the Bill Clinton years remember that there was always another Clinton scandal. Recent events have regurgitated all of those bad memories in front of us. That may also explain why so many people who notionally preferred Clinton over Trump still didn’t show up to vote for her.

To protest against Trump’s election isn’t unfair, but it is undemocratic. When Trump cast doubt on his acceptance of the election result in the last debate, pundits questioned his patriotism and raised concerns that his supporters would resort to violence. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, who is unpatriotic now? No matter how great a threat you may think Trump is to the republic, he won fairly under the rules established by the Constitution. These people are really protesting the outcome of a peaceful, free, constitutional election. By refusing to accept the result and reacting (in some cases) with violence, the protestors have become the undemocratic mobs they accused Trump and his supporters of being. And if Trump is really the authoritarian they fear he is, the left’s violence would be his best possible justification to fulfill their darkest fears.

I was relieved that Trump’s victory speech was conciliatory. His conduct during his visit to President Obama at the White House was civil and gracious. This, too, was a step in the right direction. 

I have my doubts that the clown mask is off and that a new, more presidential Trump is here to stay, but at least he’s making some effort. I suspect we’ll have to define the term “presidential” down for a few years. For now, his antics still feel novel and refreshing to some people, but they’ll get old fast.

Save the protests for when Trump makes unwise and unjust decisions. And if you consider yourself to be a smart person who thinks Trump is out of his depth, then offer him your wisest counsel. He might just need it. For the next four years, he’s the only president we’re going to have, and for most of us, this is the only country we’ll ever have.

Right now, Trump may feel invincible, but the men and women around him — Gingrich, Giuliani, Christie, Conaway, and Corker — aren’t stupid, whatever else you might say about them. They know that Trump’s supporters expect him to deliver an assortment of goals that are (variously) difficult, unobtainable, mutually contradictory, or absurd. In due course, they will make Trump understand what he can’t do at all, and what he can’t do alone.

For example, it is absurd to believe that Trump can reverse or stop the dislocating effects of automation. He can’t make manufacturing labor intensive again. He can’t save the Teamsters’ Union from self-driving trucks. He can’t make our wages competitive with wages in Indonesia. He can raise tariffs, but if he does, he can’t stop the consequent inflation and recession that will cost him reelection.

It is not absurd to believe that Trump could claw back some lost blue-collar jobs and raise wages by enforcing our immigration laws. All around Washington, I see men working in good paying jobs in the building trades, or driving trucks, who look and speak like recent immigrants from Central America. I made the same observation about the meat packing industry when I lived in Nebraska. I have no way of knowing how many of these workers came here legally, of course. Perhaps restoring our faith in our enforcement of the law would dispel the assumptions many of Trump’s voters (and many of us) probably make. Or, perhaps it would create more job openings and raise wages for workers here, albeit at a terrible cost to Central Americans.

via GIPHY

Building The Wall would be expensive, but the idea is not absurd. Long segments of the border are already walled. An interstate highway system is just a network of walls laid flat. If we can build highways and pipelines, surely building a few hundred miles of border wall is also possible. It’s not immoral or racist to argue that we have a sovereign right to protect our borders and choose who we allow to immigrate into our country. Many more people would like to live here than we have room for. It’s our right to choose those who will make the greatest contribution to our society and find the greatest happiness among us. Fewer poor, uneducated, illegal immigrants from Guatemala might allow us to admit more affluent, educated, legal immigrants from Hong Kong as its democracy fades away. Perhaps the best thing we can do for Guatemalans is to help Guatemala develop and improve the quality of its government.

Making Mexico pay for The Wall? Now that’s absurd, although the President could defray the cost by creating a special construction fund from the money forfeited from cross-border drug smuggling and money laundering. He could even tax remittances, although this would be highly regressive. 

Much is said about Trump’s alleged isolationism, but this probably gives him too much credit. “Bombing the shit out of” ISIS and stealing Iraq’s oil don’t sound like isolationist ideas to me. Trump doesn’t see doctrines; he sees inkblots. Speaking as someone who used to live here …

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and whose origins are in a very Trump-friendly demographic, I suspect that much of Trump’s appeal is that he projects strength and dominance to voters who tire of Obama’s dainty intellectualism and weakness, even as a species that abhors a vacuum descends into anarchy and madness. When Trump’s supporters say we have too many foreign entanglements and wars, they really mean we have too many foreign entanglements that don’t pay and wars we don’t win. They’re tired of losing. So, for that matter, am I. Trump craves the adoration of the mobs, and the mobs like the idea of “noninterventionism” in the abstract, right up until someone pisses them off. Then, they want a president who bombs stuff and wins wars. (This, of course, is more easily said than done.)

The point I’ll close with, then, is that Trump has made big promises, some of which he can’t keep, and some of which he can’t keep without a lot of help. He can’t pay for The Wall and more ICE officers without congressional appropriations. He can’t renegotiate trade deals without competent diplomats. He can’t nominate cabinet secretaries, officials, or judges without the advice and consent of the Senate. He won’t know which fights to pick without smart and competent advisors, and he won’t win the ones he does pick without the support of the military. The military will follow lawful orders, but that’s all the support he can count on without asking nicely.

Senate Republicans have a two-vote margin — plus Mike Pence — but the next Congress will include ten Republican senators who opposed Trump’s candidacy and several others (Cruz, Rubio, Paul) who have been critical enough of him in the past that Trump knows he can’t count on them if he overreaches. If he nominates Jeff Sessions or Bob Corker for a cabinet position, he takes the risk (a small one) of losing another seat. In the House, Republicans will have a 21-seat margin, but 24 of the returning GOP representatives openly opposed his candidacy, and many other Republicans only silently acquiesced to it. 

Trump must know that if he fails to deliver what his crowds want, his party will fracture, he will effectively lose his fragile congressional majorities, his agenda will falter, his poll numbers will collapse, his supporters will lose interest in him by the next mid-terms, and he might even get primaried. He overshadowed a divided field to win the primary, and drew an exceptionally weak opponent in the general. He may be the luckiest candidate in American political history, and he probably knows it. It’s in his interest that he be a good president, and — speaking as a Trump skeptic — it’s in our interest that, however long the odds against it, that he be a good president, too.

Those who withheld their support from candidate Trump were acting patriotically. But as long as President Trump acts in accordance with the law and the Constitution, the most patriotic decision we can make now is to help him govern and protect our country.

~   ~   ~

* Corrected, in view of Clinton’s popular vote majority.

26 Comments

  1. I’ve heard speculation that John Bolton, who endorsed Trump, could be Secretary of State. Also if Trump is willing to send the global economy into chaos with his trade war idiocy, I think he would be more than willing to take away the effective veto that China has had over our North Korea policy for the last eight years. And, he managed to reaffirm the US South Korea alliance, even if he managed to do it with a particularly Trumpian choice of words. North Korea is in the habit of welcoming American presidents with nuclear tests if 2009 be any indication. So, Kim Jong Un might kill the “hamburger summit,” before it starts. So, there is cause for hope yet.




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  2. I’ve met Bolton and he’s not the caricature the left makes him out to be. He’s intelligent, well-read, skeptical, and has the sort of dry sense of humor that speaks to an ability to deal with contradiction well. His nomination would scare the bejeebers out of some people, but I think he’d actually make a fine Secretary of State. Consider that Obama’s entire North Korea policy has consisted of building sand castles on UNSCR 1718 — which Bolton drafted and negotiated. His dim views of North Korea, criticized by Kerry in 2005, have been validated and eclipsed by Kerry’s own criticism. Of all the potential choices I’ve seen, Bolton and Corker would be the best. Gingrich, on the other hand, would be better for Defense than State IMHO.




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  3. I agree entirely that Bolton could be a great Secretary of State and a definite improvement over the current one. Regarding the scaring the bejesus out of some people, Glen Greenwald called him a “psycopathic warmonger,” which makes me like him all the more.




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  4. Regarding the protests, (I can only speak for the SF Bay Area), most protesters aren’t saying it wasn’t a fair process, they are saying that they are seriously freaking out for their personal safety. And they are not crazy. Even in our liberal bubble, the racists are really getting verbal now-I have never seen it this bad before. Anyway, I think it’s more of a very loud funeral than an actual protest. People are mourning. But I agree that the violence plays into the hands of “the other side”. I have watched these protests for years with Occupy, then BLM. It’s a predictable pattern. They start out big, then the anarchists infiltrate and hijack the protest and set things on fire. Then the real protesters get mad at the anarchists. Then with each passing night the group gets smaller and smaller and people get tired and nothing changes. I have to say, the good that has come out of all this is that my ability to have compassion towards people of color has greatly expanded. And I was raised with a brown mom but racism didn’t touch me. But I have my dad’s fair skin and Irish last name, so I have been protected.




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  5. Trump is a racist and a misogynist, Do you deny that? it is unpatriotic to support him, if you do, you condone that. The best thing for our country is for him to fail, miserably and quickly. The quicker he loses power, the better.




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  6. Well said Josh – and I say that as someone who is appalled at Trump. (My current nightmare? That the anti-election protests will give Trump a mandate he didn’t really have before. And yes, when you have people waving “Not My President” signs around, you ARE saying the election process is corrupt, and that you refuse to follow the democratic tradition of a peaceful transfer of power.)




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  7. If you reread the post, you’ll see where I said that the citizen’s obligation is to oppose Trump when he makes unwise or unjust decisions. It isn’t the citizen’s duty, for example, to help Trump gut the First Amendment by suing newspapers that criticize him.

    You’re saying that we have an unqualified ethical obligation to oppose the man himself. I did, and yet the voters duly elected him. I don’t agree with their decision, but this is a democracy, and in democracies, we respect what the voters decide. That’s the process our constitution created. We’ll have another election in 2018, and in 2020, we get to decide whether to keep him or fire him. Until then, the essential functions of government must go on, and if the President fails, we all fail with him.




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  8. I will echo Theresa’s sentiments. I live in Omaha, and the protests are mostly by people who fear for their own safety. There has been some overt bigotry here as well, with people I know being told that now Trump will take care of “their kind.”




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  9. I have to respond to that “fearing for their own safety” bit, and call out some hypocrisy on the Left. Even as we blame recent bigoted remarks on Trump, to the point where massive protests are justified, criticisms of Islam are shouted down with charges of racism. I’m liberal, and gay, and even after 49 gay people were slaughtered down in Orlando, and a bomb went off in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood (because lots of gay people live there) I was lectured by my friends that those attacks had nothing to do with Islam. They were, I was assured, all conducted by troubled lone-wolves, for personal reasons. – OK, why isn’t that the case now, regarding those comments?




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  10. This is just a question of values. You seem to value preserving the image of continued, stable U.S. governance over preserving human rights and basic human decency. The scales tip differently for me.

    If Bill Cosby were elected POTUS, I would say, No, he should not be President, not for four years or even four days, and you might even agree with me. Or maybe it would take a David Duke for you to come to that conclusion. At some point you must say, this person has gone too far; this person has done too much. At some point you would say, I can’t support our President, and you would hope for his political failure and early ouster. And you would do so not because you are unpatriotic but because you believe it is for the greater good of the country. Maybe Trump hasn’t crossed that line for you, but that line does exist, for you and for all of us. You and I just draw the line in different places.

    Our system of government, as admired as it may be, is not good or moral or just in and of itself. It is only good or moral or just insofar as it produces goodness and morality and justice for its citizens. And when it produces a sexist, racist turd like Trump, it’s none of the above, and it must be fixed.




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  11. Fixed, how, pray tell? What are you asking me to do, build barricades in the streets? If it makes you feel better, I probably won’t vote for him in 2020, either.




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  12. Above, Ellen wrote

    “Our system of government . . . is only good or moral or just insofar as it produces goodness and morality and justice . . . and when it produces a sexist, racist turd . . . it must be fixed.”

    Ellen, you scare me way more than Trump scares me, because IYO, your own subjective judgment overrides the choice of the American people through the Electoral College. Your definitions for “good” / “moral” / “just” might well be unique to you and they might not match definitions for anyone else. We the people saw the same evidence re: DJT available to you, AND we saw, or at least had available to us, lots of evidence re: HRC through Wikileaks / etc. IMO, the revealed behavior of HRC did not look good, moral, or just. Mr. Stanton essentially said it earlier in this thread: the American people – through the Electoral College – chose, with full and free information. I sure as hell did not like two terms of BHO, but I waited him out and I tried to survive. Sen. Edward Kennedy directly caused the death of Mary Jo Kopechne and with great bitterness, I and countless millions of Americans accepted his Senate presence for decades afterward. Knowing what we know now through Wikileaks / etc. re: HRC / the Clinton Family Foundation / so much more, you would endorse me if I viewed an HRC victory your same way. It looks at least on the surface like you advocate (some sort of) resistance / revolution / insurrection against a free election. Admittedly, the popular vote chose Clinton, but the Constitution defines this election machinery. Every 20th / 21st Century statecraft asshole advocate(d/s) the same refusal. This asshole list includes the entire King Little Fatso.* dynasty. Part of the “deal” as an American citizen, an American elector, means that as Americans, we accept the election results, accept the pain of those results, and with Amendment I, freely make the opposition case. To summarize, Churchill himself (apparently) taught:

    ” . . . You can always count on Americans to do the right thing — after they’ve tried everything else . . .”




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  13. The only way Trump can be a good President is if he is a completely different person than the one we’ve seen on the campaign trail, and in his life before that. Otherwise, all evidence points towards a man with strong authoritarian leanings, who gives praise to dictators and scorns democratic politicians, who envisions himself less as a public servant and more like your typical third world strong man who will duck around or mangle the democratic process in whatever ways he is allowed to get what he wants.

    Will I wish success to a man who will validate authoritarianism in this country, whose fondest wish seems to be that he could be an American Putin? No. I’ll only wish that he is something different than what the evidence seems to suggest he is, or alternatively that his attempts to play autocrat are so poorly done that he discredits this turn in American politics with his failure.




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  14. @Ellen – I am no Trump supporter either, but I have to ask: What human rights or dignities have you been stripped of? He isn’t even president yet and you’re accusing him of committing human rights violations? Really?

    I think you, and the rest of the gangs running amuck in our streets are in hysterics and obviously unhinged. Without Trump even taking office yet, you’ve decided he should be removed from office, completely negating the recent election – and why? Simply because you don’t agree with his policies. AS President he still has to abide by the same constitution as Obama.

    THE SKY IS FALLING!!

    You, and others like you, are worked to a frenzy by questionable media reports and by the DNC. Following along on their merry tune, many like you attack Donald Trump not as being simply a misguided, obnoxious individual with poor ideas.

    Nope – he’s an inhuman monster! A demon! And to many people like you on twitter, his election is worst then 9/11! Much worse.

    And of course, the obligatory comparison to Hitler is now being circulated in our schools. I mean, every single time it’s some comparison to Hitler if someone doesn’t agree with many on the left, isn’t’ it?

    Do you not recognize that you’re continual spin, crying ‘Racism’ and ‘Homophobic’ and now ‘Human Rights’ violations before the guy has even taken office sounds unhinged, hysterical, off-balance.

    Trust me, I did not vote for Trump and I do not support many of his proposals, but I’ll wait til he actually does something worthy of being compared to Hitler before accusing him of ‘Human Rights’ violations.

    Geez, take a xanax, lady.




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  15. Also, in reply to this:

    “If the President of the United States fails, do you really suppose the outcome will be less racism, fear, and class resentment?”

    I have more hope for it than if he succeeds while largely running on racism, fear and class resentment.

    An honest question. Suppose you can have one of two outcomes of the next four years:

    1) Trump succeeds and is proven a good President, or at the very least governs over four years of prosperity in spite of himself. As a consequence, his approach to politics is vindicated, the Republican party is remade in his image and American politics slides for the foreseeable future into the anything-goes cesspool of the 2016 election. Debates degenerate into outright bullying rather than discussion of policy. American politicians embrace open sexism, racism, class resentment and fear mongering of all sorts as proven tactics to victory.

    Truth and basic competence cease to matter, as Trump has made it clear it is a very viable tactic to lie and bluster your way through things you know little to nothing about. The country begins a slide towards approval of authoritarian rhetoric, open admiration of war crimes as a sign of ‘strength’ and lack of interest in global human rights, beyond how they affect America being ‘great again’, by Trumpian standards.

    2) Trump fails and the next four years are a disaster. His approach to politics is discredited and the Republicans do some deep soul-searching, ultimately emerging as a more reality-based and genuinely conservative political party. Any attempt to emulate Trump in future elections, by anyone on either side, is met with swift and universal condemnation and repudiation.

    Which would lead to a better outcome?




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  16. Or —

    1. Trump gets blocked on his crazier nominations and initiatives because people call Congress to protest them, or the courts enjoin them.
    2. With regard to less controversial policies, Trump finds competent people who are willing to help him run the essential functions of government relatively efficiently.
    3. We all survive to 2020. There is no wall, because Mexico didn’t pay for it, and neither did Congress. We still have an immigration problem. GM doesn’t open car factories with loads of $50 an hour jobs all over Appalachia. There is still terrorism. Reality sinks in with Trump voters and the primary process gets unfucked. We all get a do-over election, and we elect The Rock president. Repeat.




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  17. I happen to share most of your assessment, but the point in my argument that people seem to be missing is that you should continue to oppose Trump when he makes bad policy, help him make good policy, and help him execute good policy efficiently. And if he bollixes it, then there’s another presidential election in 4 years.




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  18. I hear all your arguments but I still say we shouldn’t feel compelled to want him to succeed, which I think was one of your original points. We shouldn’t feel bad if we don’t want him to last four full years for the “do-over election” and it is not unpatriotic to say so. It is OK to say that our system is imperfect and that it produced a bad and dangerous result and that we hope that the result will be undone or reversed as quickly as possible, whether by resignation or impeachment. That’s how bad this guy is to me. For each of us, someone is bad enough for you to feel the same (the Bill Cosby, David Duke argument).

    To say that “when our president fails, we all fail” is simplistic. Nixon resigned mid-term and I would argue that the country was and is better off as a result. No one who was alive in that era should feel bad that they didn’t support his presidency or hoped for his early demise as POTUS. If Trump fails, and leaves office, I think the country wins.




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  19. Nixon resigned mid-term and I would argue that the country was and is better off as a result.

    A few million South Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians would likely say that their countries weren’t.




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  20. And my point is simply that I’m less certain than you we’d be better off with Trump as a good president than we would be if he ends up being a disaster. The former will help the country for a few years but in the long run might undermine the very foundations of democracy, not merely based on what he does as president but owing to the corrosive means by which he won the office in the first place.

    The best case scenario would be Trump proving himself utterly unfit for office, discrediting both himself and his cheerleaders and causing the aforementioned Republican soul-searching, while not harming the country in doing so. That’s the scenario I’m hoping for.

    But if the cost of long term health for this country is a short-term Trump inflicted illness, causing us to collectively decide we’ll NEVER go down that path again, then that’s what I’ll take.




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  21. Of course, so I’m not misunderstood, there are limits on the extent to which Trump being a disaster might be a long term benefit for the world. If Trump responds to North Korea’s next provocation by nuking Pyongyang, resulting in a war which turns the Korean peninsula into a smoking wasteland and the United States into a rogue state, then yeah, totally not worth it.

    Again, something which destroys Trump’s political career while harming as few other people as possible is the ideal. But hoping Trump actually succeeds and thereby shifts the Overton window towards permanently tolerating all the horrible crap he represents? No thanks.




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  22. “Destroy Trumps’ political career”? Trump’s political career has been destroyed over and over throughout the campaign. The more it happened, the more his supporters loved him. Acts that would be career-ending missteps for any other elected official only make him more popular. Because he’s an “outsider”, or something. So I caution against running hypotheticals about how the country would logically react to anything that occurs during his administration.




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  23. I know, I know! And it’s perfectly possible we end up with the worst of all worlds: Trump goes through four years being just as awful a president as he was a candidate and people eat it up and reelect him. Because he “tells it like it is”, which is to say he dissolves into word salad gibberish when asked policy questions and simplifies every aspect of complex policy issues into being either “the best” or “the worst.”

    But I’m not sure what else to do, and Trump failing seems more likely than Trump succeeding if our goal is to purge ourselves of this nightmare as quickly as possible. And it absolutely should be.




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