Still Not My President

Kansas City residents protest the election of Donald Trump on November 9th.

Kansas City residents protest the election of Donald Trump on November 9th.

I’m finding it difficult to pick the right words for this moment. I imagine I’m in good company. Donald Trump is now the president of America. Too bland. A light rain began to fall on Donald Trump as he placed his hand on the Bible to take an oath. The pathetic fallacy. Fuck Donald Trump. Too aggressive.

Today, January 20th, 2017, Donald John Trump was officially sworn in as president of the United States of America, but I categorically reject his ascendance as legitimate. Donald Trump’s presidency is invalid due to his statements and actions during his candidacy, his unwillingness to put the American people before his own financial interests, and unlawful interferences in the 2016 presidential campaign. Trump deserves neither the respect, nor obedience, nor the cooperation of the American people. In short, he is still not my president.

Supporters of Donald Trump, or those who didn’t support him during the campaign but respect the outcome of the election, may criticize this position as immature, partisan, and contradictory—if I support democratic principles, isn’t it hypocritical of me to question the legitimacy of a president? Fortunately one need not look far to find another example of someone doing the exact same thing: Donald Trump. Trump was the one of the most vocal actors in the birther movement, whose primary aim was to undermine President Obama. The difference in this case is that questions of Trump’s legitimacy are supported by evidence, by Trumps own words, and by the consensus of every single American intelligence agency (seventeen to be exact)—not racial resentment. I owe it to country and conscience to speak out against this man, even if only to my own limited social sphere.

There is one thing that most supporters and opponents of Trump can agree upon—that he represents something completely unprecedented in the history of American democracy (that’s usually where agreement ends). There has never been a president with a temperament like his, and a visit to his Twitter page provides all necessary proof. Trump is vain, childish, vindictive, petty, greedy, allergic to facts, impatient, and impulsive. How did the man who boasted about the size of his penis in a presidential primary debate come to possess the nuclear codes required to end the human species as we know it? Trump’s biographers and critics have recognized his flaws for decades, but to have a man like this in charge of the most powerful nation on Earth is incomprehensible.

While not legally binding, Trump’s previous statements and behavior should disqualify from the presidency on moral grounds. This is the man who insulted war heroes, incited violence at his rallies, mocked a disabled reporter, established a fraudulent university, discriminated against African Americans, and bragged about sexually assaulting women. None of these things officially bar him from the office, but all of them undermine the credibility of the executive branch, the credibility of America abroad, and the credibility of the American people.

I refuse to acknowledge Trump as my president because he is a threat to American democracy itself. His contempt for democratic norms and institutions, his enmity toward the free press, his hate mongering, his open call for another nation to interfere with the 2016 election, and his praise for foreign despots all reveal his authoritarian aspirations. It is truly a shame that comparisons are made to Nazi Germany for so many partisan ends and with such frequency that an authentic, alarming similarity is cheapened. Nonetheless, the state of our democracy is in several key respects eerily comparable to that of Weimar Germany in the early 1930s. We now have a populist leader (though not popular) who rose to power with a message of anti-elitism and economic revival but who has also advocated for restriction of the press, registries based on ethno-religious criteria, and aggressive nationalism and militarism. Just as in the 1930s, the party loyalists now think they can control him, and a large segment of the population is complacent—viewing his less-savory rhetoric as peripheral or unrealistic. If Americans are able to learn from the past (and the fall of virtually every previous democratic society), we will reject this demagogue.

While I believe the moral argument for Trump’s illegitimacy as America’s leader is compelling enough, concrete legal questions of his legitimacy arise when scrutinizing his financial dealings. Unfortunately, Trump can get away with a great deal as president. There are few legal restrictions on the office, in part because it has been assumed that no person as corrupt and financially entangled as Trump could become president. Trump, for example, has still—astonishingly—not released his tax returns. There is a dizzying and ever-growing list of conflicts of interest. He has refused to put his businesses in a blind trust. Trump is now vulnerable to legal challenges that he is violating or will violate the “emoluments clause” of the Constitution, which prohibits public officials from receiving gifts or payments from foreign governments. The press is largely to blame for a lack of discussion of these critical issues during the campaign, but now it’s the American people who are stuck with a leader in legal limbo.

Lastly, Americans have cause to deny the legitimacy of Donald Trump’s presidency due the election itself. It is haunting to think a US election could be co-opted, that one of the oldest and most powerful democratic nations could be manipulated, yet this appears to be the case.

Donald Trump does not have a popular mandate. We must never, ever forget that the majority of American voters did not pick this reprehensible man as our president. Of course the Electoral College decides the winner, but it’s worth noting that the College failed in its original intent—to guard the presidency from a populist demagogue. Questions of the Electoral College’s validity as an institution in a democratic nation will continue, but that’s another discussion entirely.

Less debatable than the priority of the popular vote, there is strong evidence that FBI Director James Comey used his position to intentionally (end effectively) influence the outcome of the election, violating the Hatch Act. When the FBI discovered that the Democratic National Committee had been hacked, the only person contacted at the DNC was an IT contractor, by phone, without any authentication that it was in fact the FBI calling. It took almost seven months before DNC higher-ups were adequately informed, and by then it was too late. There was also the revelation of “potentially relevant” information about the Clinton email investigation, and then—just days before the election—the dismissal of that information. Contrast that with Comey’s unwillingness to discuss with members of Congress the ongoing investigation into Trump’s ties with Russia, and there’s a strong case that Comey abused and continues to abuse his position.

But the most profoundly disturbing challenge to the legitimacy of the election’s outcome is Russia’s intervention. Essentially every intelligence agency, politician, and news outlet is in agreement: the Russian government made a dedicated effort to influence the result of the American election in Donald Trump’s favor. They waged online propaganda campaigns to sway American public opinion. They hacked the DNC and the Clinton campaign manager’s email, and they leaked the documents so as to achieve maximum effect. They hacked the Republication National Committee as well, but they released nothing.

Trump takes office in the midst of ongoing investigations into sensitive personal information that might make him beholden to the Kremlin, his financial connections to Russia, and collaboration between the Russian government and his campaign. It’s difficult to fathom how Trump could receive so much power with so many vital questions left unanswered. While findings are not yet public, from the reactions of those receiving confidential briefings it looks bad. Everyone agrees that the Russians tried to influence the election, but few can bring themselves to utter the unutterable conclusion: they succeeded. While certainly not the only factor contributing to the election’s result, when the scale of Russian interference and the narrowness of Trump’s victory are taken into account, the truth is undeniable. 

Trump is manifestly unfit to lead the United States of America by nature of his temperament and moral bankruptcy, he is a threat to American democracy, he is corrupt, he is the product of a perverted election, and he is not my president. As I watched Trump deliver his grim inauguration address, I asked myself the same question that I’ve silently repeated for two months: what now? There’s no longer any time for despair—it’s time to act. The only way the people of this country will be able to push back against a government dominated by a single party with a monster at the helm is by mass popular mobilization. We must do more than sign online petitions and post Facebook statuses. We must stay informed, organize in defense of civil liberties, incessantly call the offices of our representatives, put our money where our mouths are by donating to causes we care about, raise awareness, sway opinions, and march and manifest and make our discontent material and undeniable. It will be difficult. If Trump’s cabinet picks are any indication, there will be a deluge of corruption and deception so forceful that it will be nearly impossible to prioritize, track, and coordinate responses.

But there is room for hope. Popular vigilance and resistance immediately stopped the Republican effort to dismantle the Office of Congressional Ethics. We can forge unlikely alliances as Trump supporters realize they’ve been deceived and that he has no intention of fulfilling campaign promises. We can stand with marginalized communities as they face unprecedented persecution. We can use these years to galvanize opposition to policies of regression, violence, discrimination, and economic neo-liberalism. We can remind ourselves that the majority of Americans did not vote for Donald Trump, and we can take comfort in the fact that the people of this country are not as backward as their leadership.

 

Why I Support Bernie Sanders

 

The New Hampshire primaries are tomorrow, and politics are on the minds of Americans. It seems that this election cycle has elicited greater involvement than perhaps any other in my lifetime. It’s logical; Obama’s finishing his second term, the 24-hour news cycle is as insatiable as always, and a dizzying number of candidates clamor for its attention. The race features a xenophobe with an outrageous combover, a sleepy neurosurgeon, two people with very familiar names, a senator who shut down the government, and even a democratic socialist.

Hillary Clinton was the heir apparent for the democratic nomination from essentially the spring of 2014 until the Iowa caucus last week. There a virtual tie with a Vermont senator, unheard of one year ago, exposed the fragility of Clinton’s campaign despite her name recognition, political infrastructure, and vast expenditure. Nevertheless, I too used to see her as an inevitability, a default option preferable to any of the clowns offered by the GOP over the past few years.

I first heard about Bernard Sanders from an episode of the Daily Show covering the announcement of his bid for the presidency. He was so obviously ungroomed and unfiltered. I couldn’t help but admire his authenticity, even as I chuckled. During the following months I learned more about his policy stances, his worldview, and his refusal of super PAC money. Slowly I came to see Sanders as the ideal (but idealistic) candidate. At the same time Clinton became progressively less appealing, but I nonetheless considered her as the probable 45th President of the United States.

My cynicism came to an abrupt and joyous end in September when I watched Sanders' appearance on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. I had always seen Bernie as inspiring, but I believed he would be ultimately doomed in a general election. That changed when I learned that he has been polling better than Hillary Clinton in theoretical matchups with Republican candidates since this summer. I was also, once again, convinced of Bernie’s extraordinary honesty and reliability. He’s had a long and meaningful career, including exceptional prescience in both domestic in foreign affairs. Lastly, I found out that Sanders has the most small donors of any political campaign in the history of the United States; as of February 8th he’s received over 3.5 million individual contributions, averaging just $27. The conversation between Sanders and Colbert invigorated me with hope, a belief in the viability of a campaign unassociated with corporate money. He could win.

I’m proud to be part of that democratic vision; I made my first ever campaign contribution to Sanders in January. This, for me, is the ultimate issue: campaign finance corruption. As I’ve become more informed as a citizen of the United States, and as a citizen of the world, it’s become apparent how broken our democracy is. I believe that America has become what Noam Chomsky describes as “a plutocracy with democratic forms”—every few years we undergo the ritual of checking a box, but the real political power rests in the hands of the extremely wealthy. The rich have a radically disproportionate influence on public policy due to a political process that institutionalizes bribery. No issue, whether Democratic or Republican, can be addressed in a way that prioritizes the interests of citizens over those of unaccountable private wealth unless the election process undergoes serious repair. Lawrence Lessig articulates this much better than me:

 


I am so passionate about this point that I would vote for a candidate who differed from me on every other issue, as long as campaign finance reform was their first priority (and they weren’t a sociopath). Luckily, no such compromise is necessary; I side with Bernie Sanders on many issues, and I’m proud to back the only presidential candidate seriously addressing our corrupt system while putting his (individually-raised) money where his mouth is.

Bernie is not a perfect candidate. I’m getting a little tired of his stump speech, he can sometimes confuse his statistics, and he has yet to effectively communicate his phenomenal civil rights record to black and Latino voters. No single person can fix our country, and Sanders readily admits this fact. Real change requires popular support and cooperation. Bernie is perhaps the candidate that most inspires this enthusiasm, as the success of his unlikely campaign suggests. Despite progressive ideals that draw criticism from those invested in the current status quo, Bernie gains new allies each day—of which I am proudly one.