The incoming administration’s tone, personnel choices, confusion and agenda already have created legitimate fears on both sides of the aisle and among voters. Unfortunately, reaction has been mostly along party lines.
House Democrats, 169 of them, were fully justified in writing to President-elect Donald Trump demanding that he dump Stephen K. Bannon as chief strategist. It is shameful, although entirely expected, that no Republican lawmakers joined the letter. More egregious was the Republican Jewish Coalition, which chimed in to defend Bannon, whose alt-right Breitbart News has peddled in anti-Semitism. Longtime RJC backer Sheldon Adelson and his wife were just named to Trump’s inaugural committee, which we cynics would say was hardly coincidental. Jewish Republicans should consider whether to keep supporting the RJC; politicians should reconsider taking its money.
When an immigration adviser, Kris Kobach, revives the ludicrous idea of a Muslim registry, there should be greater outrage. (Republican House members were busy the other day fawning over Trump and donning his “Make America Great Again” hats, so perhaps they missed that news nugget.) At least New York Mayor Bill de Blasio tried to impress upon Trump the level of concern. (“I think it was important for me to explain to him how fearful people are, in this city, in this country. That not just the rhetoric, but some of the policies that have been proposed, literally have people wondering whether their family members might be deported, whether because of their religion they’re going to be discriminated against.”)
Moreover, Trump is back threatening the press and had an unsupervised chummy conversation with Vladimir Putin. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) admirably rebuked the latter. The press will have to defend itself. (Perhaps we need a media version of NATO’s Article V — an attack on one outlet is an attack on all.)
Then there are the reminders that there is something seriously “off” about Trump. Word is getting out that Trump would essentially stay in Trump Tower when president. (Could he be that insecure about leaving his current surroundings? I’m old enough to remember when George W. Bush was mocked for traveling on the campaign trail with his own pillow.) A man so obviously emotionally fragile, frankly, should have his son-in-law at his side, if that will calm him down and reduce his outbursts and errors. (Would Ivanka Trump have to leave the business?)
And Trump has still not relinquished ownership or management of his business, creating troubling conflicts of interest, especially with regard to loans from foreign banks.
Is it all grim? Well, from the “It could be worse” file, we note:
- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is permanently out of Trumpland. He is once more disgraced and abandoned.
- Ben Carson won’t take a Cabinet position because, he says, he doesn’t know that much about government. (Didn’t he run for … oh, never mind.)
- Vice President-elect Mike Pence seems to have an outsize role in the transition, quickly purging the lobbyists who never should have been there. Americans should pray that he can head off the worst ideas and nominations.
- Trump and Bannon did not try to oust House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).
So it has not been the absolute worst transition one possibly could have imagined. But this is the danger with Trump: Not doing something absurd — something no rational person ever should have considered — now is cause for praise. Trump critics, mindful of how much Trump craves approval, will no doubt seek to encourage him when he gets something right (or does something bad but not horrific). Praise him and create a “new normal” of absurdly low expectations and tolerance for what used to be intolerable? Give him no credit and convince him that he’ll never win over anyone except his hard-core base? Not everyone will agree about the right course.
What, however, is an easy call is to denounce GOP cowardice and facilitation of dangerous, immoral and/or unconstitutional White House behavior. Over and over again during the campaign, GOP Senate and House incumbents and challengers swore up and down that they would speak up and act as a brake on Trump. They have done virtually nothing so far. If they don’t keep their word, voters in 2018 and 2020 should boot them out. Conscientious center-right candidates should be prepared to challenge spineless Republicans in the primaries or general elections. There may even be instances in which a sensible centrist Democrat needs defending or support to bolster the backstop against Trump excesses. Millennials, in particular, should be prepared to go up against the new insiders, the Trumpkinized GOP. Remember, dissent can be the highest form of patriotism.