A covert Russian operation helps elect a man unfit for the presidency. Resistance, as long as it is peaceful and legal, is not only justified but almost mandatory.
A champion of the forgotten people scores one of the great political upsets in American history, confounding the nation’s elites. Resistance is for sore losers and hypocrites who would undermine democracy exactly as they accused the president-elect of wanting to do.
Or — wait, can we check “both of the above”?
For those who opposed Donald Trump’s candidacy, this transition period is confounding. What is the right response?
The confusion many Democrats feel is reflected in their anger toward President Obama — not only for failing to respond sooner and more assertively to Russian interference in the election but also for cooperating with Trump at all.
In promising to help Trump’s administration and wishing for its success, Obama is behaving normally for a departing president — and that “normalization” of Trump is unacceptable in the eyes of many Democrats.
Are they sore losers? After all, if the electors on Monday cast their ballots in accordance with the popular vote in their states, Trump will win handily. The Russian hacking and FBI Director James B. Comey’s letter helped him, but so did his instinctive understanding of the national mood, Hillary Clinton’s tactical errors, voters’ desire for a “change” candidate and a dozen other factors. He won, she lost.
Since his election, Trump has reached out to people who opposed him, such as Mitt Romney, Al Gore and Silicon Valley tycoons. He appears to be courting and uniting the disparate factions of the Republican Party. He has nominated a number of apparently qualified people to his Cabinet, from retired Marine Gen. James N. Mattis at Defense to Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) at Interior.
And yet . . . when he reaches out to opponents, it seems at times his main goal is to gloat or extort an apology. His apparently qualified appointees have some questionable company, from a housing secretary who knows nothing about housing to a national security adviser who traded in lurid conspiracy theories during the campaign.
Trump continues to attack the media, tweet falsehoods (like the 3 million fraudulent votes) and conceal his tax returns. His transition team’s request for names of climate-change experts at the Energy Department raised fears of a purge of civil servants who do not toe his line. Like a Central Asian despot, he continues to mix family with business with government. His uniting of factions in fact represents Republicans’ predictable sacrifice of principle for access.
Most disturbing has been Trump’s response to the reports of Russian interference. From his last news conference way back in July, when he actually encouraged such hacking, to his breezy dismissal of Russian responsibility and contempt for U.S. intelligence agencies, to his Friday tweet that seemed to celebrate the hacking, his stance has been other than what one might expect of a soon-to-be commander in chief. Trump still refuses to release documents that would show the extent, if any, of Russian investment in or connection to his business interests.
And after he is sworn in on Jan. 20, Trump may seek to shut down further inquiry.
Isn’t all that reason enough for the electoral college to ignore the voters’ instructions? Doesn’t it justify shifting immediately into irreconcilable opposition?
The risks are genuine, but the best way to defend democratic norms is to follow democratic norms. That means recognizing the results of the election. It means encouraging Trump to fulfill his promises to release his tax returns and to separate himself from the family business — and legislating to require such actions if he reneges.
It means that Congress should confirm presidential appointees who are found, after rigorous vetting and questioning, to be qualified, and should reject those who are not. The civil service and foreign service should implement presidential policy directives when they are legal, and resist any that are not. The courts, the media, state governments and, above all, the citizenry, both those who voted for him and those who did not, all have roles to play.
And it means urgently investigating, as Republican congressional leaders have promised they will, Russian interference in the election, no matter where the inquiry leads.
Trump has pledged to govern as a uniter. On Jan. 20, he will swear to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. Like any president, he should be given a chance to fulfill those pledges and be held accountable by all the institutions of our democracy if and when he falls short.