Politicians govern as they campaign. We know this; research has proved it time and again. Barack Obama promised health-care reform, and he did it. George W. Bush promised tax cuts, and he did it. Bill Clinton said he would reform welfare and cut the deficit, and he did it. Nor did their personalities change when they were elected. When you’ve just navigated your way to the most powerful chair in the world, would you change anything about yourself?
And how has Trump campaigned? He has spat out racism and sexism. He has urged attacks on protesters expressing freedom of speech. He has promised to deport hundreds of thousands of young people. The people he is reportedly considering for his administration favor policies that would hurt millions of people, especially women and minorities. He has lied repeatedly, and when confronted with his lies, bullied and lied some more. He has attacked judicial independence and press independence. He has emboldened white nationalists. His journey to the White House began with him attacking the very legitimacy of the outgoing president. We know who he is.
On Thursday evening, after being informed of protests around the country against him, did Trump give these citizens a chance? No, he sought to delegitimize them, calling them “professional protesters, incited by the media.” Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, a possible candidate to run Trump’s Department of Homeland Security, said the protesters “must be quelled.” To be clear, the anarchists who used a few rallies on the West Coast on Thursday to loot and riot are wrong and should be opposed. (Of course, Trump supporters such as Clarke saw nothing wrong with promising to pick up “pitchforks” and “muskets” if Clinton won.) But Trump’s tweet came before that news.
These are chilling signs of how a Trump administration will treat legitimate protests from citizens exercising their First Amendment rights. Some will take encouragement that a second tweet this morning dialed back that rhetoric and praised the protesters for their “passion.” But this is the same man who encouraged harassment of protesters and media at his rallies, who promised to pay legal fees for a man who punched a protester, who said that “in the good old days this doesn’t happen because they used to treat them very, very rough. And when they protested once, you know, they would not do it again so easily.” Again, we know who he is.
We can hope for the best for a Trump presidency, though that hope looks increasingly foolish by the hour. We must plan for the worst. There are two months to go before the tremendous powers of the presidency and the law enforcement powers of the federal government are handed to Trump for at least four years. Americans have voted, and we must accept the outcome. Indeed, if Trump offers specific policies to help working families and provide good jobs, liberals should work with him. But now is the time for those who oppose him to organize, to support groups protecting all Americans’ rights and well-being and to stand with the millions who do not share his anti-constitutional values and in particular the many who will lose health care or even their legal protections under his presidency. Next year may be too late. It is a risk we cannot take.
The cry goes up, “What about the norms?” Well what have they gotten us? For years and years, Republicans have ignored these “norms” and paid no price. On the very first night of Obama’s presidency, Republican power brokers, including now-House Speaker Paul Ryan (Wis.), met and “decided they needed to fight Obama [who, unlike Trump, had actually won a majority vote] on everything.” Now they have the White House, Congress and soon the Supreme Court — not to mention an overwhelming advantage in state legislatures and governorships — and their actions are then normalized by spineless “both-sides-ism” in the media.
If Trump turns out to be a surprisingly not-terrible president, I will be relieved. But if he deports thousands of “dreamers,” strips away health care that millions now depend on and launches attacks on a free press and freedom of assembly — all things he has said again and again he will do — I will not be standing somewhere saying, “Well, I was giving him a chance!” Tuesday was Election Day. Now is the time to fight back.