Harry Reid has just issued a long and very non-conciliatory response to Donald Trump’s victory — and many people appear to be very glad he did, because this is exactly what our public officials should be saying right now. While Dem leaders from Barack Obama to Hillary Clinton to Elizabeth Warren all called on Americans to approach Trump’s presidency with an open mind and give him a chance to lead, Reid took a different approach. In sum, he treated Trump’s ascension to power as something extraordinary that must not be seen in any other terms:
The election of Donald Trump has emboldened the forces of hate and bigotry in America.
White nationalists, Vladimir Putin and ISIS are celebrating Donald Trump’s victory, while innocent, law-abiding Americans are wracked with fear — especially African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Muslim Americans, LGBT Americans and Asian Americans. Watching white nationalists celebrate while innocent Americans cry tears of fear does not feel like America.
I have heard more stories in the past 48 hours of Americans living in fear of their own government and their fellow Americans than I can remember hearing in five decades in politics. Hispanic Americans who fear their families will be torn apart, African Americans being heckled on the street, Muslim Americans afraid to wear a headscarf, gay and lesbian couples having slurs hurled at them and feeling afraid to walk down the street holding hands. American children waking up in the middle of the night crying, terrified that Trump will take their parents away. Young girls unable to understand why a man who brags about sexually assaulting women has been elected president.
Also interesting, though, is that Reid called on the press corps to approach this moment with the urgency it demands:
We as a nation must find a way to move forward without consigning those who Trump has threatened to the shadows. Their fear is entirely rational, because Donald Trump has talked openly about doing terrible things to them. Every news piece that breathlessly obsesses over inauguration preparations compounds their fear by normalizing a man who has threatened to tear families apart, who has bragged about sexually assaulting women and who has directed crowds of thousands to intimidate reporters….Their fear is legitimate and we must refuse to let it fall through the cracks between the fluff pieces.
If this is going to be a time of healing, we must first put the responsibility for healing where it belongs: at the feet of Donald Trump, a sexual predator who lost the popular vote and fueled his campaign with bigotry and hate….If Trump wants to roll back the tide of hate he unleashed, he has a tremendous amount of work to do and he must begin immediately.
What’s immediately striking about this is that, unlike the other Democrats mentioned above, Reid is essentially saying Trump should not be given the benefit of the doubt. Trump must prove that he is not the bigoted, xenophobic, misogynistic hater that has been shouting at the nation for the last year. And the press corps must hold Trump to this standard. It must not flush down the memory hole the degree to which Trump insulted, scapegoated, and demagogued about various groups, and it must hold Trump accountable going forward if he fails to atone for it, rather than letting all of it drift away into the ether, all forgotten.
The last year of wretchedness and depravity was not just some big show — it was more than merely a vehicle to drive up ratings and make networks a lot of money, though it unquestionably did succeed at doing that. It will be a colossal failure on the press’ part if it treats Trump as if he didn’t mean any of it, and hey, we’re all good now. The gravity of what Trump inflicted on our process and on our civic health amounts to a whole lot more than mere titillating fodder for the third installment of Mark Halperin’s “Game Change” series.
There are reasons to worry that the creeping normalization of Trump is already underway. Jonathan Chait notes a worrisome lack of concern over Trump’s overt authoritarianism taking hold among Republicans as they relish the prospect of returning to total power in Washington. And a subtle amnesia is setting in over just how obviously unprepared for the job Trump proved himself on the campaign trail as the media turns to covering the pomp and ceremony of the transfer of power.
Obviously, come January, Trump will ultimately have to begin to reveal whether he is really going to govern in accordance with the overt expressions of bigotry, authoritarianism, and unvarnished cruelty that have been widely on display throughout many months of campaigning. Trump’s true designs — whether he knows now what they are or not — cannot remain concealed forever. He will have to show us whether his vow of deportations really does extend to those who were brought here illegally as children, through no fault of their own, and are now thoroughly assimilated into American life. If so, we will be hearing from them. He will have to show us whether his relentless demonization of immigrants and Muslims signals how he genuinely intends to wield the power of the state. He will have to show us, as Brian Beutler notes, whether his overtly expressed threats to press freedom and equal protection before the law were mere bluster and opportunistic mob manipulation, or whether they signal a genuinely authoritarian presidency.
Harry Reid is right. This unique moment demands that the default setting for the media and for our lawmakers on all of these matters must be to assume that Trump fully meant what he said until he shows us otherwise.