David Cole writes: The stunning upset election of Donald Trump has left many Americans wondering what has become of their country, their party, their government, even their sense of the world. Purple prose has been unleashed on the problem; comparisons to fascism and totalitarianism abound. Commentators claim that Trump’s election reflects a racist, sexist, xenophobic America. But we should resist the temptation to draw broad-brush generalizations about American character from last Tuesday’s outcome. The result was far more equivocal than that; a majority of the voters rejected Trump, after all. There is no question that President Trump will be a disaster — if we let him. But the more important point is that — as the fate of American democracy in the years after 9/11 has taught us — we can and must stop him.
The risks are almost certainly greater than those posed by any prior American president. Trump, who has no government experience, a notoriously unreliable temperament, and a record of demagoguery and lies, will come to office with Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, and, once he fills the late Antonin Scalia’s seat, on the Supreme Court as well. His shortlist of Cabinet appointees offers little hope that voices of moderation will be heard. Who, then, is going to stop him? Will he be able to put in place all the worst ideas he tossed out so cavalierly on the campaign trail? Building a wall; banning and deporting Muslims; ending Obamacare; reneging on climate change treaty responsibilities; expanding libel law; criminalizing abortion; jailing his political opponents; supporting aggressive stop-and-frisk policing; reviving mass surveillance and torture?
Whether Trump will actually try to implement these promises, and more importantly, whether he will succeed if he does try, lies as much in our hands as in his. If Americans let him, Trump may well do all that he promised — and more. Imagine, for example, what a Trump administration might do if there is another serious terrorist attack on US soil. What little he has said about national security suggests that he will make us nostalgic for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.
We let a minority of voters give Trump the presidency by not turning out to vote for Clinton. (Trump didn’t even get as many votes as McCain and Romney, but Clinton received nearly five million fewer votes that Obama in 2012). But if we now and for the next four years insist that he honor our most fundamental constitutional values, including equality, human dignity, fair process, privacy, and the rule of law, and if we organize and advocate in defense of those principles, he can and will be contained. It won’t happen overnight. There will be many protracted struggles. The important thing to bear in mind is that if we fight, we can prevail. [Continue reading…]
Cole: “Trump didn’t even get as many votes as McCain and Romney, but Clinton received nearly five million fewer votes that Obama in 2012.”
Before we buy this, we need the actual vote totals, yes? In the Atlantic, dated Nov 16, we read this: “We probably have about 7 million votes left to count,” said David Wasserman, an editor at Cook Political Report who is tracking turnout. “A majority of them are on the coasts, in New York, California, and Washington. She should be able to win those votes, probably 2-1.”
Moral: We have a way to go before we can get a realistic grasp of what happened in the vote. Numeracy requires patience.
This is as motivating as a desperate stand-your-ground speech before a rear-guard action during a rout.
Sadly, a lot of critics of the U.S. government (irrespective of whoever happens to be president) view it as an indomitable force. David Cole does not come from the ranks of such fatalistic critics. He’s an activist lawyer whose fighting words stretch beyond opinion pieces and reach as far as the Supreme Court where he has successfully litigated against the government — which is why the ACLU chose him as their National Legal Director.
As dangerous as Trump is, he remains constrained by a legal system that retains its strength through the separation of powers. Moreover, in spite of the perception that he is a dictator-in-the-making, neither he nor his supporters have thus far challenged the supremacy of the U.S. Constitution.
Don’t underestimate the potential for using the legal system to rein in Trump.