The nostrum “Give the new president a chance” on the surface seems eminently decent. We’re a country of second and third chances. We forget the past, even the recent past, with remarkable alacrity. Why not wipe the slate clean and extend a new president a honeymoon? The problem is this is not a normal presidency nor a president-elect whose views and judgment deserve deference. Unfortunately, the “give him a chance” sentiment readily transforms into an all-purpose rationale for turning a blind eye to early outrages and, on the right, for remarkable hypocrisy.
One can “give the new president a chance” and yet promptly rebuke him for egregious early decisions. In fact, early rebukes and candid pushback are essential if the novice president is going to improve. The moment President-elect Donald Trump announced his selection of Stephen K. Bannon as chief strategist and retired Gen. Mike Flynn as national security adviser bipartisan outrage should have sounded. If we are silent, or worse cheer, the appointment of men who’ve dabbled in conspiracy theories and promoted bigotry and who lack the temperament and the respect for democratic values, we lower the bar for acceptable nominees and condone their prior rhetoric. In short, we now say someone who demeans an entire religion, flacks for a foreign government or provides a platform for white nationalists is fit to serve at the highest levels of government. The time to give the new president a chance was before he announced such hires; when he did so, he used up his chance.
That does not mean that every appointment from here on out should be condemned. To the contrary, if Trump should appoint esteemed and wholly qualified men (they seem all to be men in this administration) to Cabinet spots, we should cheer. But the message is already muddled: He gets a pass when he appoints nuts and gets praise for good hires. There is so little differentiation the president-elect would be forgiven for concluding there is no downside to choosing more of the former.
If we decide to suspend criticism of the new president — for a month? for a year? — we run the risk of setting the pattern not just for awful hires but for terrible legislation. Under the guise of giving the new president a chance do we countenance an “infrastructure” bill that is really an assortment of tax credits and preferences for Trump’s real estate cronies? Does giving the new president a chance mean we assent to a tax plan that overwhelmingly favors the rich and opens a gaping hole in the budget?
Worst of all, early reticence about Trump’s ethical outrages (e.g. Ivanka Trump sitting in on a meeting with the Japanese prime minister, Trump taking a meeting with Indian businessmen in between transition meetings) will remove pressure on the administration to address the cloud of conflicts of interest hovering over the entire transition. Congress becomes a party to future corruption, Republican media cheerleaders who railed against Hillary Clinton become grotesque hypocrites.
In short, resistance to the new administration’s immoral, dangerous and foolish actions — of which there will be many — demands consistency and clarity. Early outrages are no more excusable than later ones. A bipartisan grouping — call it The Resistance — of Democrats and Republicans, of good government groups and libertarians, of immigrant-rights groups and constitutional purists, of foreign policy experts on the right and left — needs to organize so when ludicrous decisions are made the reaction is not one-sided or haphazard. #NeverTrump — joining with Democratic allies — needs to become #The Resistance or we will find ourselves down the road of excess, corruption, authoritarianism and bigotry before Trump even takes office.