Note: This isn’t about writing, but given the recent election, I found it hard to focus on my novel for a couple of weeks, during which I wrote this article. I also posted it on Medium.
The results of the presidential election were shocking and scary—and Republicans should be as alarmed as Democrats. Donald Trump openly campaigned as a tyrant, suggesting we violate Constitution and international humanitarian laws, claiming he alone can solve complex problems, slandering entire groups of people, and threatening to jail his political opponents.
Now that he’s won with a narrow minority of the popular vote and has made an unusually nice acceptance speech, many on the left and right say we should give him a “chance to lead.” While his inauguration may be inevitable, we cannot wait to send a clear message about the limits of his power. The left and right don’t agree on much these days, but it’s imperative that people across the spectrum come together to protect five basic principles of our democracy:
1) Defend the Constitution
Trump has proposed many unconstitutional policies during his campaign, among them a religious requirement for immigrants, threats to jail his political opponents and sue media outlets that speak out against him, and support for racial profiling and “stop and frisk” searches. Those of us who believe in the Constitution need to deliver a united message that, as President, he must respect the Constitution and Rule of Law at all times.
2) Practice prudent foreign policy and uphold international laws
It’s not an exaggeration to say that the worst case scenario of a Trump presidency would be nuclear war that kills hundreds of millions of people. Trump has an infamous temper and has spoken lightly about using nuclear weapons during his campaign. Now that he stands to be Commander in Chief, we need to speak together to say we will not tolerate reckless statements about weapons of mass destruction.
Trump has made many other rash foreign policy statements, including the suggestions that we rethink NATO, steal Iraq’s oil, force Mexico to pay for a wall it doesn’t want, and kill the family members of terrorists. Whether these statements show a willful ignorance of the lessons of history and international laws or a conscious decision to break them, they cannot be allowed to become reality. The left and right, along with military leaders, must make it clear to Trump that the only way to put “America first” is to pursue a foreign policy that is thoughtful, measured, and legal.
3) Show respect for Americans of all ethnicities, religions, and genders
Trump has tried—and to an extent succeeded—in further dividing our country along racial and ethnic lines. He has demonized non-whites, especially Latinos, blamed immigrants for criminal and economic problems they did not cause, and promoted harmful stereotypes about Muslims. This divide-and-conquer strategy is commonly employed by tyrants and should be deeply disturbing by those who love freedom. Unfortunately, there is a large group of Americans who now feel empowered to express and act upon their racist and sexist views. I believe, however, that there is a larger group on the left and the right (including some reluctant Trump voters) who find these views abhorrent. Everyone who believes that diversity is an American strength needs to speak up and let Trump know we will fight his divisive rhetoric and work to bring people together.
4) Use evidence and verifiable facts to shape policy decisions
While all politicians spin and exaggerate the truth, Trump’s campaign relied on pure fiction to a dangerous extent. Some of the most basic tenants of his campaign go against all evidence: refugees are likely to be terrorists and criminals, climate change is a Chinese hoax, the government “knows who the criminals are” but is simply choosing not to do anything about it…
Trump’s “solutions” to our country’s real problems are based on a combination of misinformation and magic. When asked how to balance the budget while also cutting taxes and initiating massive infrastructure projects, he answered that once he becomes President the economy will suddenly grow so dramatically that—poof—no more budget deficit! His “secret plan” to defeat ISIS is so secret that not even he knows it. And his climate change plan is to ignore it, because he claims science is a Chinese hoax.
Clearly, some people would rather believe the lies they want to hear than unpleasant truths. But reasonable minds on the left and right need to band together to send a clear message to Trump: Fiction may have gotten you elected, but facts must shape our policies.
5) Promote civility while upholding the right to peacefully protest
Trump’s vulgar and mean-spirited rhetoric, while sometimes entertaining, has served to further divide the country. Some of his opponents have responded with vulgarities of their own, which are understandable and possibly appropriate in the context of a comedy show or a venting Facebook post. As a long-term strategy, however, trying to out-mean Trump is counterproductive and nearly impossible. The best response for our elected officials and community leaders is to insist on civility. We can and should protest injustice, debate the issues, and even engage in peaceful civil disobedience when necessary, but we must refuse to turn disagreements into a middle-school-level bullying contest.
Promoting these five ideals may seem difficult when our President-elect has just broken all of them. But I believe that, between those who vehemently opposed Trump, those who reluctantly supported him but were troubled by his campaign, and those who supported third party candidates or didn’t vote, we have a majority who still believe in these basic tenants of a functioning democracy.
If we can promote these five principles, we will have the best case scenario for a Trump presidency: four years of a President that half the country hates, followed by a chance to make things right again in the midterm and the next presidential election. That is how democracy should work. But if we don’t band together to support these five ideals, in four years we may not have a democracy to defend.