This is the last time I’m going to try to explain why the fair, patriotic, ethical and rational approach to the impending Presidency of Donald Trump is to be supportive of the office and the individual until his actual performance in the job earns just criticism. Attempting to undermine a Presidency at its outset is a self-destructive act, for nobody benefits if a Presidency fails. Wishing for a failed Presidency was what Rush Limbaugh did in 2008, and he was justly condemned for it, substantially by the same people who are saying the same thing he did, but about Donald Trump. They were right then, and they today are just as wrong, and despicable, as Rush was.
I have had numerous debates, on and off Ethics Alarms, with usually reasonable people who take the #NotMyPresident position, which is nonsense on its face. If you are a citizen, Trump is your President. We don’t have, or allow, citizen states. You can dissent, and support political opposition, but you still must obey the laws and be loyal to the nation, which means loyalty to the nation’s elected leadership. Loyalty doesn’t require agreement, but it does require respecting legitimate authority, and seeking what is best for the United States of America. Constitutional crisis is never good for any nation. A crippled government is never good. A leader estranged from the public is never good. Seeking these things is irresponsible and foolish, but more than that, it is dangerous.
In The Caine Mutiny, a film version of the stage drama and novel “The Caine Mutiny Court Martial,” Captain Queeg (Humphrey Bogart), a man whose war-shattered nerves and self-esteem problems have rendered him an erratic and an unpopular officer, falters in his command during a storm. His officers, frightened and already convinced that their captain is unfit for command, mutiny. At their military trial, their defense attorney causes Queeg to have a breakdown on the witness stand, winning the case for the accused mutineers. Later, however, at the post trial victory party, the lawyer, Barney Greenwald (Jose Ferrer), shames his clients. He represented them zealously, but he tells them that they were, in fact, at fault for what occurred on the Caine:
Ensign Keith: Queeg endangered the lives of the men.
Greenwald: He didn’t endanger any lives.You did. A fine bunch of officers.
Lt. Paynter: You said yourself he cracked.
Greenwald: I’m glad you brought that up, Mr. Paynter, because that’s a very pretty point. I left out one detail in court. It wouldn’t have helped our case. Tell me, Steve, after the yellow-stain business, Queeg came to you for help, and you turned him down, didn’t you.
Lt. Maryk: Yes, we did.
Greenwald: You didn’t approve of his conduct as an officer. He wasn’t worthy of your loyalty. So you turned on him. You ragged on him, you made up songs about him. If you’d given Queeg the loyalty he needed, do you think all this would have come up in the typhoon? You’re an honest man, Steve, I’m asking you. You think it would have been necessary to take over?
Maryk: It probably wouldn’t have been necessary.
Keith: If that’s true, we were guilty.
Greenwald: Ahhh, You’re learning, Willie! You don’t work with the captain because of how he parts his hair…you work with him because he’s got the job, or you’re no good.
Or you’re no good.
Donald Trump is in over his head. He knows it, I think. Maybe, just maybe, with a lot of help, a lot of support and more than a lot of luck, he might be able to do a decent job for his country and the public. It’s a long-shot, but what’s the alternative? Making sure that he fails? Making him feel paranoid, and angry, and feeding his worst inclinations so he’s guaranteed to behave irrationally and irresponsibly? How is that in anyone’s best interest? That’s not how to get someone through a challenge, especially someone who you have to depend on.
The American Presidency has always been a merger of man and office. This is a very important and powerful tradition. It means that every new occupant of the office is immediately, with his election, imbued with the virtues and stature of the men who came before him. This provides instant legitimacy, but also an instant obligation. The new President feels the immense burden of having to meet the standards set by his predecessors, and it is a daunting challenge. Yet many of our elected and unelected Presidents (the Vice-Presidents) rose to exceed all reasonable expectations based on what they had done before. Arthur, Truman, Lyndon Johnson and Ford qualify for this description. Only one President faced public ridicule and political antipathy from the moment he was sworn in, and that was Andrew Johnson. He was a failure, at a time when the task facing the President might have even defeated his fallen predecessor, Abraham Lincoln. Might Johnson, whose rise remains the most impressive “anyone can grow up to be be President” life story we have ever seen or are likely to see, have found the strength and character to be a successful leader had he not faced disrespect, hatred and mockery from the start? Probably not, but he hardly could have done worse.
Either the Presidency will make Donald Trump a better man, or Trump will permanently harm the Presidency and weaken it, thus making the office less of an inspiration and source of strength for future occupants. (Nixon wounded the office; so did Carter, and Clinton.) It is absolutely in the nation’s best interests to seek the first result. That requires focusing on the office and its strengths, and uniting as a nation behind that office. The relentless, unprecedented assault on Trump since his election by Democrats and the news media may have already done irreparable damage.
Gallup has reported that public approval of the Trump transition has fallen to the lowest level, by far, of any recent incoming President. Well, of course. It is remarkable his approval hasn’t fallen farther: there is no precedent for such hostile partisan warfare against an incoming POTUS, nor for such overwhelmingly hostile press coverage.
In 2009, newly elected President Obama’s approval stood at 83%. Remember that number when you hear Democrats claim that they are treating Trump no worse than Republicans treated President Obama. Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights icon who has devolved into a vicious, partisan race-baiter, recently pronounced Trump an illegitimate President. CNN’s Anderson Cooper was correctly puzzled by this, saying,
“I get he doesn’t like Donald Trump. I get he doesn’t accept the results of the election, but is this helpful in any way?… If a Republican had said this about President-elect Hillary Clinton, Democrats would be up in arms.”
It isn’t helpful. It is destructive. Every journalist, politician, progressive, activist, entertainer and citizen who refuses to respect the will of the electorate and the office of the President enough to give Donald Trump the same initial support that every other President has automatically received as a tradition and part of the democratic process is recklessly, petulantly, foolishly harming the nation and themselves. They are wrong, historically, civically, and ethically.
And shame on all of them.