America’s values will survive President Trump

Alastair Pearson argues that the American Republic is well-equipped with the means to respond to Trump’s authoritarianism

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I am proudly American. My country’s fundamental values including individual freedom, equality of opportunity, and respect for underlying constitutional order have molded me as they have molded the half-billion or so people to have ever been American. Like my compatriots I am the product of a collective national struggle that has transformed our polity from a tiny confederation of 3.9 million newly liberated colonies to a sprawling republic of 319 million citizens and permanent residents spread over 50 states, 16 territories, and a federal capital district. Our principles are bound up equally with the thousands of American soldiers serving abroad, and the millions of expats like me scattered across the globe. The progress for which we remain grateful in advancing egalitarian prosperity, democracy, and civil rights has come at a high cost, but it has always proceeded in step with these basic norms and laws. These fundamentally liberal ideals are as real and tangible to the vast majority of us as the booths we enter to cast our votes.

My country, its Constitution, and the progress that that document has made possible will endure Donald J. Trump. Our laws may be bent, our norms pushed to the edge, but it is my firm conviction that the republic will not break. That is because no matter where they are, Americans remain inextricably linked by the same basic principles enshrined in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and the worldview that respect for those living documents produces. The bonds that enjoin us remain indissoluble as long as the Constitution survives, and its unity as a guiding star is the basis for our unity as a people.

Our shared legal and political fate over more than two centuries has also cultivated shared cultural characteristics – from Guam to the San Francisco Bay to the Great Lakes, we are boisterous, friendly, stoic, and we strive to be committed to our families. We are punctual, hardworking, and optimistic. Again, this unity is real – our system influences who we are as people. I don’t think it is naive to say that I am who I am, and most Americans are who they are, because of a living Constitution that enshrines our right to live our lives as we choose and which defends that right with the unflappable force of law. It is because of my – our – commitment to our Constitution that I know the republic must and will outlast a Trump presidency.

As a people, we obey the rule of law, and expect our government to do likewise; we respect a plurality of views and enshrine this respect in inflexible protections for the press and the free exercise of religion; we nurse a healthy skepticism for centralized authority that we nonetheless expect to reflect some element of our political spectrum as determined by a democratic process. As his brutal, disrespectful campaign makes clear, Donald Trump may be authoritarian, arbitrary, xenophobic and ill-informed, but he is not stronger than our constitutional order, nor our collective expectation that he be held within its limits.  

The Constitution provides for men like President-Elect Trump, soon to be our executive and commander-in-chief. It denies him absolute veto power. It prevents him from enacting legislation. Without funding and authorization from Congress, he cannot wage protracted war. His numerous thoughtless, dangerous proposals will have to face an internally divided Republican Congress that has no clear consensus on Ukraine, Syria, NATO, the Muslim ban, press censorship, or numerous of the other ways in which he could threaten our national security and basic way of life. While Republicans can likely push through their agenda on the Affordable Care Act and taxes, the Democrats retained enough Senate seats to filibuster non budgetary matters. Trump’s ability to enact tariffs of 35 percent on Mexico and 45 percent on China, which could trigger a global recession, will require a congressional vote unlikely to succeed. With Democratic obstruction, Republican intransigence, and his own demonstrated tendency to change course and pander, he will not fund his Deportation Force, he will not build a towering wall, he will not ban Muslims, and he will not renegotiate our debt. Our Constitution places a break on lunacy.

However, the Constitution’s primary role in deterring Trump and preserving the America I love comes not from roadblocks but from its protections for a democratic and Democratic resistance. Article One schedules midterm elections for 2018. The First Amendment protects the right to protest, to report, and to join groups like the American Civil Liberties Union. Republicans were not powerless when they took Obamacare to the Supreme Court and won religious exemptions, and we will not be powerless if Trump attempts to reinstitute torture, implement mass deportation, weaken libel laws or criminalize abortion.

We can donate, volunteer, protest, and come 2018 and 2020 we will vote. My party faces a great internal reckoning on how to regain the trust of a white working class that has to be integrated into a respectful liberal social agenda, without changing our principles on LGBTQ rights or the rights of other endangered minorities. But after we reflect and come up with a path forward, it is incumbent upon us to act. If you have the time and you care about liberalism with a small “l,” start planning for how to get Democratic House members and senators elected in your district and state. That work will lay the foundation for evicting Trump in four years. And if for reasons of principle you cannot vote for a Democratic candidate, cast every vote between now and Trump’s last day in office with the knowledge of your obligation to restrain his ability to victimize the weakest among us. Our Constitution, the document that makes us American, buys us the time to resist the worst of this man, but it cannot defeat him. That enormous moral responsibility falls to each and every one of us.

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