At times like this it’s common to speak of shared purpose and national unity. If that’s what you’re looking for, there are plenty of other voices you can listen to.
It would be wonderful if national unity were possible, but it isn’t. Perhaps Donald Trump will surprise us all and turn out to be a temperate, careful, and wise president. If that should happen, I’ll join with conservatives to give him the praise he deserves. But he hasn’t earned it yet, not by a mile.
Please, don’t tell us liberals that when we criticize Trump we’re doing terrible damage to the convivial spirit that would otherwise prevail were we not so rude. We’ve heard that baloney before, and it’s pretty rich coming from people who spent the last eight years saying that Barack Obama was a foreign socialist tyrant carrying out a secret plan to destroy America.
So spare us your hypocritical talk of unity, because your champion sure doesn’t believe it. We’ve seen it clearly since the election: once he goes off his teleprompter, we get not even the pretense of unity from Donald Trump. Quite the contrary; he communicates again and again that he has nothing but contempt for those who don’t pay him proper tribute. After a campaign that was built on hatred and resentment from its very first moment, he couldn’t bring himself to reach out to the majority of Americans who didn’t vote for him, mounting a “thank you tour” only of states he won (think what you would have said if Hillary Clinton had been the victor and done that) and lashing out on Twitter like a cranky toddler at anyone who criticized him.
Being elected to the presidency wasn’t enough to grant him an iota of generosity or magnanimity. He may be the most powerful person on earth, but he’s still a tiny, petty, insecure, vengeful man whose only measure of any human being’s worth is whether they’ve praised him recently.
It will be a long time before the contrast in the character of these two presidents ceases to bring us pain. We won’t forget how Trump treated Barack Obama, a man who despite every rancid personal attack you threw at him conducted himself in office with an uncommon level of grace and class. And now he has handed the keys to the White House to a man who launched his political career with a despicable campaign to question to question Obama’s birthplace, and who in every way is his opposite: impulsive where Obama is thoughtful, ignorant where Obama is informed, disrespectful where Obama is polite, vindictive where Obama is generous, a walking collection of character flaws where Obama is a role model.
Do you look at Trump and say to your kids, “That’s who you should emulate”? Do you tell them to be so so insecure and narcissistic? Do you tell them to lie dozens of times every day the way he does? Because I and millions of others can and do tell our children to be like our outgoing president. Barack Obama made mistakes and fell short, as every president does. But never for a moment did I feel ashamed to have voted for him. Did you ever feel ashamed to be a Trump supporter? When you watched him say that an American judge couldn’t treat him fairly because “He’s a Mexican,” when you watched him attack a Gold Star family, when you read the details of how he conned people out of their life savings with Trump University, when you listened to him brag about how he could sexually assault women with impunity because he’s famous — what did you feel? if none of those made you even a little bit ashamed that he was your candidate, then there’s something hollow where your soul should be.
Yes, that’s all in the past now and the campaign is over. But no, we’re not just going to “move on” and forget about the fact that a hostile foreign power may have actively aided this president’s election. We want a full investigation so we can understand what happened and why — and whether there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. And we aren’t going to forget that FBI director Jim Comey, knowing that there was an intensive investigation underway into Russian efforts on Trump’s behalf, chose to publicly announce, 11 days before the election, that Hillary Clinton’s emails were being investigated, most likely throwing the election to Trump. We can’t change that now, but we aren’t going to forget it, and no one else should either.
You want to call us sore losers? Fine. But has there ever been a sore winner like Donald Trump? He can’t even tolerate being made fun of by Saturday Night Live.
You don’t like it when we get angry? Deal with it. We’re angry now, and we’ll stay angry. We’ll be angry when this president and this Congress try to take health coverage from tens of millions and health security from hundreds of millions. We’ll be angry when they try to cut off women’s access to health care, and cut taxes for the wealthy, and slash the safety net. We’ll be angry when they gut environmental regulations, and promote discrimination, and attack voting rights, and remove restraints on Wall Street misbehavior.
I know many liberals who believe this is the end of America as we know it, that Trump is such an authoritarian and so imbalanced that the damage he will inflict on our nation and our world will be impossible to undo. People speak of an unprecedented era of corruption, of a withering attack on all the institutions of democracy, even of a nuclear war brought on by Trump’s unique combination of ignorance and impulsiveness.
I try not to be quite so pessimistic, to keep my fear in check. But only time will tell. And if these next years turn out the way we fear, understand this: We will never allow you to forget what you have countenanced and joined with. The stain of 2016 and everything that is about to follow is on you. You fell behind this man and assented to everything he is. Your hands will never be clean.
And we will fight. We may not win most of the time — with control of the White House and Congress, there is a great deal Republicans will be able to do no matter how much the Democrats or the public object. But we will fight, precisely because we love our country and care about its future. We liberals know well that you like to think that you alone are the “real” Americans and you alone have the country’s true interests at heart. But we stopped submitting to that calumny some time ago.
So I say to my conservative friends: You want liberals to pipe down and get behind our new president? Too damn bad.