The following refrain has been heard repeatedly since the course of American history forever shifted on Tuesday night: Maybe President Trump will be different than candidate Trump.
It’s a refrain which has been uttered by pundits, politicians, NBA commentators and everyday Americans hoping that Trump’s fascist rhetoric was nothing more than a vote-whipping device. It’s a refrain which has been repeated by those who believe the dignity of the office of the presidency, indeed the Oval Office itself, somehow has the power to humble and shape those who hold it. It’s also a refrain which has been spoken by those who never believed Trump could win the presidency in the first place.
Many of those who were living in a fantasy world before Trump’s victory are now doing so after it, assuming that things will be okay. That everything will work out. That those authoritarian words spoken during a campaign cannot possibly reflect the man’s true intentions.
This is a grave mistake, and is precisely how fascism takes root.
We must come to understand that things are not necessarily going to be okay. And I’m not talking about domestic policy, which will see a disastrous unraveling as healthcare, environmental regulations, LGBTQ rights, immigration policies and more crumble. Nor am I talking about foreign policy, which will see alliances strained, diplomatic agreements gutted and global anti-democratic institutions emboldened. Nor am I talking about the Supreme Court, which will soon be lurching wildly to the right.
I’m talking about constitutional democracy itself, both those institutions established and those rights enshrined.
This is serious. Our country isn’t just facing an existential crisis, it’s facing a constitutional crisis as well. “Campaign” Trump expressed a desire to weaken our democratic institutions and then target the vulnerable. Do not assume he was being insincere, that he was just seeking votes.
Believe him. Believe every word he’s uttered.
- Believe that president-elect Trump wants to institute a national stop-and-frisk targeting minority populations, giving police the ability to interrogate and search black and brown people at will.
- Believe that president-elect Trump wants a deportation force to round up millions as immigration legislation is gutted, leaving children and families vulnerable.
- Believe that president-elect Trump wants to ban Muslims from this country and seal off our borders completely.
- Believe that president-elect Trump wants to use the security state now under his full control to monitor and surveil suspect individuals and communities.
- Believe that president-elect Trump wants to torture people and do things which are in his own words “unthinkable.”
- Believe that president-elect Trump wants to punish women who get an abortion and medical professionals who perform them.
- Believe that president-elect Trump wants to limit press freedoms by cutting off access to reporters, threatening those who critique him and weakening their right to anonymous sourcing.
Those who think Trump will not act on such policy ideas uttered during the campaign are not paying attention. They are not paying attention to the fact that “Muslim ban” has suddenly reappeared on his website. They are not paying attention to Bush’s torture architect now being considered to head the CIA. They are not paying attention to Trump’s unprecedented denial of press access since his victory. They are not paying attention to Trump blasting those constitutionally-protected protests which broke out after the election. They are not paying attention to the fact that America is not exceptional, that democratic institutions are made by people, and that they can be dismantled by people.
President Obama, Secretary Clinton and others have normalized Trump this week because they have faith that democratic institutions are stronger than one man. They normalized him because they see the peaceful transition of power as paramount right now in an unsettling time.
They had no choice but to do so for the sake of stability. We, on the other hand, do not have to take that route.
We must not give Trump any benefits of any doubts. To do so is not noble nor open-minded. To do so is to open the door to an autocrat at heart and greet him with a cordial, “Welcome.”
No, we must stand up and fight any threat posed to our freedoms and institutions. We must form coalitions and organize and go to war. I’ll leave it to Democratic Party officials to figure out political electoral strategies moving forward, on how to take into account and respond to the grievances of rural white voters.
But I will not leave it up to them to fight an autocrat. I will not leave it up to such politicians who may be looking to build bridges in the name of political viability to step forward in time to save the institutions within which they function.
I will instead stand on those bridges, block traffic and hold signs when those authoritarian ideals pushed by President Trump attempt to stream through.
And they will be streaming through. Believe it.
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, published by Oneworld Publications (London).
Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.