How do I know that I wouldn’t react to a Democrat Donald doppelganger with the same servile complicity as so many Republicans? That I wouldn’t look the other way as a progressive putz dishonors his office with every tweet, demeaning Gold Star widows and world leaders with infantile impunity?* Indeed, what political parallel universe can I image that even approximates the depths of Trump’s unpresidential behavior and its distortion of centuries-old norms?
President Trump’s first tweet of the new year insulted Pakistan. The next day, I read that the “leader of the free world” tweeted that his nuclear button is much bigger and stronger than Kim Jong Un’s…and his works. The fact that your jaw didn’t drop either time tells you everything you need to know about Trump’s unpresidented presidency. Every morning, I dread loading the day’s headlines on my laptop.
Yet I can’t look away.
I don’t want to be an outrage machine, but what other reaction can I have to the constant parade of provocations to both our country’s adversaries and closest allies? I keep yelling at the screen, “You’re. The. President!”
If Trump’s closest advisers can’t get him to act presidential, maybe I can somehow reach him through the ether (or at least achieve a momentary emotional catharsis).
Trump governs as if he’s only the president for the minority of Americans who voted for him. Progressives quickly adopted the hashtag #NotMyPresident soon after Trump peeled off just enough votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin to win the Electoral College. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by three million votes, yet 80,000 votes made all the difference in our anachronistic system designed to give more power to slaveholding Southern states.
I’ve avoided using #NotMyPresident, which after all was also popular among Republicans during the presidency of Barack Obama. But the fact remains that UnPresidential Trump has governed as if he really isn’t our president. If your state didn’t vote for him, you might as be dead to him. You certainly can’t say that of President Obama, who made his name saying that there is no liberal America or conservative America, only the United States of America.
Nonetheless, it’s important to guard against tribalism. The way I attempt to do this is to try to imagine what I would think of how I would feel if the party identification were reversed.
There are also growing signs of Republican-leaning suburbanites turning against the GOP. And Democrats were favored in the generic ballot by a whopping 18% in a recent CNN poll.
So, how can I be sure that I would be equally opposed to the equivalent behavior and anti-opposition party tactics if a Trumpian Democrat had been elected? Well, I know myself and my sense of fairness and basic humanity.
Perhaps I wouldn’t feel the same depth of disgust because no Democrat would offend my humanistic core beliefs the way Trump does on a daily basis. Literally.
But if there were an unpresidential Democrat tweeting provocations to an unstable advisary and stalwart allies? You bet your ass I would be up in arms…and particularly embarrassed that it was perpetrated by the leader of my party.
Would I be mollified if cherished liberal goals were still being met? I would be happy about that, naturally. Yet would the costs to our country be worth it?
Unpresidential Actions: Democrats Have Been #MeToo TooAnd that brings us to Bill Clinton. Absolutely, Slick Willie deserves every bit of the reassessment he’s receiving in the wake of the #MeToo movement. And I other feminists should accept our own share of blame for not seeing it at the time (or speaking out if we did). Still, Bill Clinton’s failings were mostly in the personal arena.
President Clinton no doubt was and is a deeply flawed individual. But his unpresidential actions ended at his zipper. Shockingly, Clinton attempted to be President of the United States of America, not just of the blue states. Just like every president up until Trump. Even Saint Ronnie.
And, certainly, Clinton didn’t take a sledgehammer to our political system. In my political mirror universe, I’m assuming some sort of equivalent attack on American institutions, the press, and basic notions of verifiable knowledge.
As I said, it’s a bit difficult to imagine this from the left. I’m dismissing, for instance, the Religious Right arguments against marriage and bathroom equality being attacks on their religious liberty.
Revolutionary Era France closed churches and monasteries as it edged toward the blood-soaked Terror, forcing priests to sign loyalty oaths, jailing, and eventually beheading 6% of their ranks. How many atheists would support such horrifically radical antitheistic moves?
Now that was Christian persecution…and atheists would be linking arms with the faithful in protest.
Yet, there are voices on the left who attack established science. Think vaxxers and the anti-GMO crowd. Green Party presidential
candidate Jill Stein — a doctor, no less — desperately attempted to appeal to that unscientific constituency in the 2016 election. I never supported Jill Stein, but many liberals who had drifted toward her after Bernie lost the primary abandoned Stein due to her pseudoscientific pandering.
And there are far too many on our side who buy into detox humbuggery. That’s right, progressive have our fair share of anti-science loons.
Gwyneth Paltrow, I’m looking at you.
Other mirror image Trumpisms are harder to imagine on the left. Nonetheless, I know myself well enough to be sure that I would never stand with someone who stood by while a major foreign advisary interfered with our electoral system…even if it ensured that my party won an improbable victory. And especially if the candidate’s ego was the driving factor in denying the meddling and doing nothing to prevent an almost certain recurrence in the next presidential election.
This should be way beyond party politics. We’re all Americans. It should go without saying that each and every one of us should be dedicated to protecting the integrity of our electoral system.
I’m not talking about virtually nonexistent voter fraud. It offends my republican ideals — small r — that Republicans — big R — seek to disenfranchise voters more likely to vote for their opponents. In. The. Name. Of. Electoral. Integrity.
Few Democrats consider disenfranchising Republican constituencies to be a respectable path to electoral success.
If a very model of an unpresidential president is ever elected from the left, it will be incumbent for Democrats of all stripe to speak up loudly in defense of our Democratic process. Our electoral system is undoubtedly imperfect, but it’s too late to convince our Founding Fathers to move past their pique at Great Britain and adopt a parliamentary system. (With such a system there could’ve been a vote of no confidence against Trump and even a call for a new election.)
The president isn’t just the standard bearer for their party, but our republic. We have to hold our leaders accountable for their behavior, no matter what party they represent.
*I say “he” because — admit it — Trump is unpresidential in an arrested development, male kind of way.
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