WASHINGTON, November 14, 2016 — It seems that Trump is doing some backpedaling. That’s not surprising—think Obama and Guantanamo. Trump’s list of priorities for the first hundred days includes very little that he can do unilaterally.
He can undo President Obama’s executive orders, immigration in particular, but most of his agenda requires that Congress act, and Congress’s priorities aren’t his.
Last week, American campuses were swamps of tears, misery and despair. As a faculty member, my first inclination was to deliver some tough love and tell students to grow up and snap out of it. That wouldn’t have been useful, though, as they weren’t ready to listen until they’d had some time to recoup in a safe space.
And it’s unkind to be tough with people when it isn’t useful. But I still had to point out a few things:
1. Same-sex marriage wasn’t about to be declared unlawful because, as President-elect Trump has observed, the Supreme Court has spoken. It’s not likely that the Court will return any time soon to that issue. Same-sex marriage is safe. Go buy some furniture and set up a joint retirement account.
2. The only “rights” that Trump can revoke with a stroke of a pen are rights that were granted that way, and those can’t properly be called “rights.”
3. Only if you happened to believe patent nonsense about the GOP being in lockstep behind Trump did you believe that Congress would act right away to pass his agenda. Half the Republicans in Congress either don’t like Trump or ran as far away from them as they could. The GOP congressional delegation has been in regular revolt against its own congressional leadership. If you were drinking Kool-Aid about the GOP being a bunch of lock-step Nazis, you were miserably uninformed and deserve the terror that you’re wallowing in.
4. The U.S. operates under a great deal of institutional inertia. When President Obama was issuing executive orders, Democrats considered that inertia a but in the system. But it’s a design feature. There’s only so much a president can do by executive order, though if you applauded when Obama expanded the boundaries for action, don’t complain if Trump explores those boundaries.
Are you ashamed of America for voting in Trump? It’s the same country in which Michelle Obama expressed pride in 2008, for the first time in her adult life, and again last July at the Democratic National Convention. Same country, same people. And when it transfers power peacefully between two men who are on different sides and who don’t even like each other, it will do something that has always been part of its greatness and of which we should be proud.
We should be ashamed of some Americans right now—the racist taunts, the vandalism, the attacks on individuals because of whom they supported—but not most of them. Most people seem to be going about their business as usual, perhaps a little more hopeful or a little more fearful, but keeping their wits about them. America remains an admirable country, still great.
It always was, Mr. President-elect; Clinton and Obama were right on that one.
It’s been almost a week since the election. If you’re still weeping about it, it’s time some tough love: Grow up and snap out of it. Then go out and do something.
Most of what ails our states comes from our statehouses, not Washington, and from our counties, not our statehouses. The president isn’t a king or a dictator, and this is till a federal republic.
If you aren’t involved locally—running for office, serving on boards and commissions, making a nuisance of yourself at city hall—or at the state level, then get busy. It will feel good and you might actually make a difference. Strong, lasting change in the U.S. is bottom up, not top down. It isn’t easy or glamorous, but that’s the way it is.
If you want third parties, build local support and local structures, then get state election laws changed so you can build strength within your state. Until the Libertarians and Greens and Whigs and Constitutionalists can get some state legislatures, governors’ mansions, and a U.S. senator or two, they really can’t be taken seriously running presidential candidates.
America is imperfect, but it is great, and we have nothing to be ashamed of in this election. Whether we’re happy or dismayed by the results, it remains to us to make our communities, our states and our nation better places for the future.