One observer wrote on President-elect Donald Trump’s naming of Stephen K. Bannon as chief strategist:
If ethnic and religious minorities are worried, it’s in part because Donald Trump and his intimates have spent the last several months winking at one of the ugliest political movements in America’s recent history. Furthermore, as some on the left have been more attuned to than their conservative counterparts, the problem is not whether Bannon himself subscribes to a noxious strain of political nuttery; it’s that his de facto endorsement of it enables it to spread and to claim legitimacy, and that what is now a vicious fringe could, over time, become mainstream.
More succinctly, a U.S. senator declared, “Steve Bannon’s appointment to a senior White House post signals that many of his dangerous and bigoted ideas will have a seat at the table in the White House.”
The first is from Ian Tuttle of National Review and the latter from the soon-to-be minority leader, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). People of goodwill on both sides of aisle, as we have said, are revolted by the ascension not merely of Donald Trump but of his shock troops and their vile creed.
Republicans have become so accustomed to Democrats trivializing bigotry (with “micro-aggressions,” trigger warnings and the like) and Democrats so convinced that all Republicans think like Trump that they have forgotten their common sense of decency and abhorrence of bigotry. Now is no time to compete for moral superiority; the task is bipartisan unity in defense of our democratic values and institutions.
When Trump names someone to an important post like Bannon, there should be a phalanx of lawmakers from both parties who speak with one voice. There are largely symbolic measures that can be undertaken on a bipartisan basis — op-eds, sense-of-the-Congress resolutions, etc. When it comes to confirmation hearings, Democrats should not reflexively block nominees over policy differences, but when it comes to ethics, conflicts of interest, bigotry and other basic measures of decency, surely some Republicans, such as Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), Shelley Moore Capito (W. Va.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), can stand on principle.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), a #NeverTrump voter, writes that “even as we hope for [Trump’s] personal effectiveness and success, we should all still argue for principles we believe in.” He reminds us, “In the American system, the vast majority of policy is to be made by the people’s legislative representatives — not by the executive branch or by unelected judges. And thus the Congress needs to hear from the people on the issue.” Moreover, policy is not simply a series of laws. It’s the collective output of the Congress — its pronouncements, hearings, reports, investigations, fact-finding missions and rejection of presidential initiatives and nominees. “Reflexive tribalism and reflexive partisanship are signs of a sick republic, not a healthy one,” Sasse writes. “And so we should argue about Mr. Trump’s coming proposals.” Inherent in that is a commitment to find common ground both in opposition to Trump’s actions that sully our institutions, abandon our values and bring dishonor on the White House and the country.
Lawmakers should not, of course, stand up to the White House merely on issues of race and the fitness of appointments. They must band together to force the president to disclose his finances. They must prevent and investigate abuses of power and gross incompetency, of which there will be both. We’ve gotten so accustomed to seeing congressional-executive relations obscured by pure partisanship that we forget that lawmakers’ best protection against a loose cannon in the White House will be one another.
This is a president-elect like no other, so there must be a Congress like no other. Its members must take on an extra burden of checking and stymieing Trump’s worst ideas, defending Congress’s institutional prerogatives and looking at times for the allies across the aisle against a reckless executive. The Republicans with political futures will not be those who went along with Trump’s assaults on our democracy and decency, but who found allies wherever they could be found to defend our country.