Why Precedent Matters for the Presidency - by Charles King
The antipathy and disregard towards convention on display in the months and days leading up to the election was immense. US voters had front row seats to arguably the most desperate, shameful and cringe worthy of political spectacles (if you didn’t tune in please don’t fret for the second act is just beginning). Each new day brought with it an onslaught of unbelievable headlines that encouraged candidates to descend to new depths in castigating the other. The result was an election cycle that tamed even the more extreme House of Cards story lines.
This election forced the US to confront a number of unsettling realities that have, until now, remained in the periphery such as a disenfranchised middle class, residual racist and xenophobic sentiment, adversarial police-citizen relations, and a fearful LGBTQ+ and POC community. Trump’s ability to leverage enough of this disarrayed constituency, in combination with a draconian election system, propelled him into the oval office without a popular majority. As the new head of state so eloquently put it, “I was never a fan of the Electoral College until now.” His feat becomes all the more impressive, or maybe heinous, considering the controversy that plagued Trump and his campaign for the entirety of the election.
The strength and resilience of Trump’s campaign lied in his refusal to adhere to the longstanding conventions that forty-four preceding presidential elections had helped to establish. His speaking events were replaced with 1930s Germany fascist-style rallies, policy positions kept as secret as a Frank Ocean album release, honesty abandoned for an unfaltering devotion to falsehood, and professionalism rejected for vitriolic, searing insults.
The success of the aforementioned strategy, in hindsight, is not so improbable. Trump breathed life into a forgotten group, a group disenfranchised with the status quo and the establishment that perpetuated it. Years of strife compounded by feelings of despair and rejection spawned desperation so acute that Trump’s recognition, even without concrete means to achieve a fruitful end, coalesced massive support. Liberal dialogue surrounding a lack of safe spaces, heteronormative social standards, affordable education, reproduction rights, or equal wages (while extremely valid and important) did little to persuade embittered mid-western coal miners who couldn’t afford to feed their families. Whether this loyalty is perceived as reckless naiveté, calculated carelessness or something else entirely, the fact remains that rural, white working-class Americans felt ostracized and disconnected.
If Trump’s shortcomings ended with the way he organized and captained his campaign, I might be slightly less concerned. In the two weeks since his victory, he has moderated some of his more radical stances including promising to keep an open mind towards climate change, stemming the number of Mexican immigrants to be deported, abandoning his plan to prosecute Hillary Clinton, and even condemning the alt-right support that has been thrust in his direction (although, I’m not sure how he then justifies the appointment of Steve Bannon).
The beast now confronting our nation is of a much scarier sort; the frightening reality is that irreversible damage has already been done. Trump’s triumph in the face of unspeakable, indefensible, and disqualifying scandals has set a dangerous precedent that cannot be undone, rewritten or forgotten. The extensive prerequisites that once reinforced the distinction of the presidency have been entirely discredited. The list of scandals that implicate Trump at their center is quite extensive, so I’ve included some of them here to prompt your memory- since his campaign began in the summer of 2015, Trump has:
Propagated “birther” lies that President Barack Obama is not a US citizen.
Claimed that an Indiana judge of Mexican heritage was unfit to handle the Trump University case because of his heritage.
Threatened a ban on Muslim immigration to the US.
Mocked a disabled reporter who had published unflattering comments about the candidate.
Instigated a public feud with the parents of a Purple Heart recipient.
Accused Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly of treating him unfairly during a debate because she was menstruating.
Advocated a policy of hunting terrorists' families.
Refused to release tax returns and boasted about his financial prowess after it was revealed that a $916m business loss exempted him from paying taxes for more than a decade.
Persevered despite never holding elected public office or a military post in any capacity.
Denied Senator John McCain of any recognition as a war hero because he was captured and held as a POW.
Discredited records claiming that he regularly assaulted women as “locker room” talk.
Labeled his victims of sexual assault liars.
Received a “stone-cold stunner” from professional wrestler Steve Austin on an episode of WWE Monday Night Raw.
Alleged that President Obama is the founder of Islamic State.
Settled a lawsuit for $25m in which Trump University was accused of deceiving vulnerable students out of millions.
This list is a frightening reminder of the man that is to be the voice of our country for the next four years. By electing Donald Trump to our nation’s highest, most influential office, we are embracing the values inherent in the hideous actions of his past. We are suggesting that it is ok for the President of the United States to be unqualified, violent, bigoted, racist, sexist, impulsive and ignorant. We are suggesting that it is ok to submit to narcissistic impulses and commit reprehensible acts against others. We are suggesting that is ok to lie and deceive. We are suggesting that it is ok to reinvigorate America’s most shameful and regrettable mistakes and risk decades of progress.
America’s decision to elect Donald Trump was the choice of a minority, and the precedent set by this decision cannot and will not go unchallenged. The voices of the majority must unite in holding our new President accountable. They must let him know that the archaic, backwards promises that got him elected will not be tolerated. They must let him know that the ideals that define his presidency will not define them. They must let him know that the sentiments of the majority do not align with those of a perverted minority. They must let him know that the toxicity of his campaign will not follow him into office and infect eight years of accomplishment under President Obama.
Mindless actions such as nullifying the United States’ commitment to the Paris Agreement, increasing fossil fuel production, aggravating already tenuous relationships with major global partners, deepening ethnic and social divisions at home and repealing gun legislation are all avenues to instability, yet Trump is intent on leading us down them. We have a moral and personal obligation to fight Trump on these issues that pose a considerable threat to the wellbeing of our society and jeopardize our chance at a fulfilling future.
Trump’s victory is most easily viewed as an obstacle, but with this obstacle comes an opportunity to establish a lasting precedent of our own. I have faith that in four years time, the generation that elected the 45th president of the United States will not be remembered for its divisiveness, stagnation, or hostility. It will not be remembered as the generation responsible for hoisting a madman into the oval office or the generation that brought about the end of the world. Rather, it will be remembered as the generation that, in the face of adversity, not only salvaged tolerance and diversity but also made them stronger than they once were. We have an opportunity to inaugurate a profound precedent that will outlast that of the egomaniacal slug that is now President, and we cannot waste it.