One Nation: In Defense of Institutions
The events of Nov. 8, 2016 need no real summation, as we all lived it together. In one swift, enthusiastic statement, a few tens of thousands of voters in Midwestern states bucked the national trend, and sent Donald J. Trump on a trip to Washington DC. — and on his coattails, a weakened, but still healthy, Republican majority in the House and Senate.
The following two-and-change months have seen unending prognostications — from some, about how Trump will save their jobs and restore America to some unknowable ‘greatness’ from ages past; from others, about how Trump and the Republican majority will dismantle our government, auction it to the highest bidder, and allow a long, deadly slide into plutocracy. The commencement of the Senate’s confirmation hearings on Trump’s cabinet have been the first real, in-depth look at what kind of Administration he intends to build. This is especially important, given that the President-elect has stated he will lean on his cabinet to manage day-to-day Executive affairs.
As an avowed liberal and a Democratic Party hack, I’ve done my share of participation in the discussion surrounding the President-elect. I want to shout my anger that my candidate won the popular vote by an unbelievably large margin — a desire tempered by an understanding that the American experiment has never put control of the Presidency directly in the hands of the people, and the popular vote does not currently determine control of the Executive Branch. I want to point and scream at the injustices and conflicts perpetrated by the incoming Administration’s cabinet, who will most likely be rubber-stamped by Senate Republicans.
After the election, we asked ourselves — Is it unjust that a Californian’s vote is worth less than a Rhode Islander’s? Perhaps. Personally, if given the choice, I would support a Constitutional amendment to abolish the electoral college, but the decision is not so cut and dry. The Founding Fathers, in writing what would become our Constitution and Bill of Rights, lived in an era where the tyranny of the majority — a very real danger that showed itself in force during the French Revolution — taking hold in a new nation was of paramount concern, so they — through compromise and vibrant, energetic argument — made a system where a simple majority is not enough to control the government. Even in a situation where this protection has gone awry, where despite a margin of millions of votes the GOP controls both houses of Congress and the Presidency — we have a robust series of checks and balances in place, thanks to this foresight.
A strong, well-organized, well-funded minority in Congress can do much to hold the Administration to account. Nonprofit organizations, such as the ACLU, can fight tooth-and-nail those who would seek to co-opt and crush civil liberties through legislative action by making use of a strong, independent judiciary. Citizens can lobby their local representatives and statehouses to fight a Federal government gone rogue, and back up their words with action at the ballot box.
We need to give our Constitution, our system of government, and our political traditions more credit. Our democracy such as it is, has survived early strife, rebellions, a civil war that left hundreds of thousands of our countrymen dead, the ending of chattel slavery, the extension of the franchise to former slaves, non-landowners, and women of every creed, massive cultural and political upheaval, and a period of wealth inequality that makes our current situation seem quaint. It can, and will, survive Donald Trump and his ilk.
In his farewell address, President Obama encouraged his supporters and staff — many of whom cast their first votes for him in 2008, or who began their careers with him during that improbable campaign — to not lose hope, to believe in our institutions, to go back home and run for office. Washington DC. is about to be filled with thousands of Obama alumni, who are equipped, knowledgeable, and motivated to step up and become the change that they once voted and worked to support. These individuals will become the bench that Democrats so sorely lack on the local, state, and national stage, and will lead the fight for fairness in redistricting, justice through legal protection to those who need it, and true equality in opportunity through the revitalization of progressive causes.
President Obama’s understanding that we must fight against threats to our way of life from a position within the system that upholds those same values should be shared by all of the dejected and demoralized Democrats. If we abandon faith in our system of government, if we cease to believe that a minority party can be an effective check on the powers of the majority, if we do not have faith in the wisdom of an independent Judiciary, then we will truly lose ourselves, and those who seek to undermine the vitality of the American Experiment will see their work come to fruition.