In early 2009, just after Obama assumed office, I distinctly recall a predominant attitude expressed in pundit/media/political circles: give the guy a chance. He was just elected with a stark popular “mandate” and was therefore owed some measure of deference, at least in the early stages of the presidency — before the Administration had been fully “settled in.” Republicans were chastised for not being sufficiently deferential. The antiquated term for this proposed time period was “Honeymoon.”
The idea back then — one that I subscribed to — was not that Obama should be shielded from criticism, but that he deserved some latitude. It takes awhile for a presidential “transition” to totally come into fruition. Bush policies were still going to be in effect under Obama, just as a matter of institutional momentum/inertia. Blaming him for every little thing that went wrong, or forming harsh conclusions based on actions he took in his first couple days or weeks, was myopic and didn’t account for the enormous complexities involved in the transfer of governance responsibilities from one faction to the next.
So, that was a widely-held belief in early 2009. Maybe it was right, maybe it was wrong, but it was a widely-held belief. Even though Congressional Republicans ultimately sought to block much of Obama’s agenda, they too exhibited deference: they confirmed virtually all of his cabinet nominees without much of a delay, save for some self-inflicted “scandals,” like Tom Daschle’s failure to pay taxes.
Eight years later: what is Trump “owed”? Any deference in the slightest? Certainly the people who identify with #TheResistance would seem to believe that Trump should be opposed at every turn simply because he’s Trump. The substance of what he’s doing is immaterial: he must be opposed because it’s the Democrats’ profound duty to oppose Trump, and Trump = immutably bad. If you look on Twitter, there’s this idea going around that Senate Democrats have abdicated their duty by voting to confirm any of his cabinet nominees at all, even the more innocuous ones.
For one thing, reflexively opposing every cabinet nominee would simply be poor strategy for Senate Democrats. They are most effective when they are tactical, discerning, and targeted. Declaring oneself preemptively opposed to anything Trump does or anyone he nominates flies in the face of those characteristics. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren seem to recognize this, as they have already voted in favor of several Trump nominees.
But leaving that aside: the popular view in certain quarters is that Trump must be opposed everywhere and anywhere, no matter what. He gets no “Honeymoon.” Obama might have been owed one, but it’s a different situation now, or so the #Resistance would claim.
OK. Maybe the #Resistance people are right. Maybe they’re not right. Either way, it’s necessary to recognize that they are holding Trump to a far different standard than the one Obama was held to, or at least the one that many liberals wanted Obama held to. Again: it could well be right to hold Trump to a different standard. But let’s not pretend that the standards haven’t shifted over eight years. Obama got a lot of deference early on. Maybe not as much as he would have liked, and segments of the GOP were definitely obstinate, but he did get some. If Trump deserves none, then proponents of that position should at least recognize that they’re changing the “rules of the game” and dispatching with certain “norms” around how presidents are treated at the very beginning of their terms.
It’s true that Obama won the popular vote by a sizable margin, while Trump lost it, so their respective “mandates” might differ. If that’s your reason for shifting the standards, so be it. But at least acknowledge the shift.