Despite losing the popular vote by over 2,000,000 votes, and despite polls that overwhelmingly showed otherwise, Donald Trump seems destined to become the 45th President of the United States. This, too, despite considerable opposition from Republican party stalwarts about his moral and mental fitness to serve.
The Baffler, today, prepares us for the ascendancy of Trump with the existential poetry of Donald Rumsfeld‘s Department of Defense news briefing on the Bush Administration’s war in Iraq on February 12, 2002 — known known, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns:
Here are some known knowns:
Donald J. Trump is a sexual predator, a morally bankrupt and virulent xenophobe, a climate-change denier, the president-elect of the United States, and a one-time participant on WrestleMania.
And here are some known unknowns:
Trump might withdraw from the Paris Peace Accords, slash DACA and DAPA, scale back Obamacare, criminalize abortion, collapse NATO, reinstate waterboarding, and build a wall along the Mexican border.
As for the unknown unknowns:
They are manifold and terrible.
All truly horrible and I am still in a state of shock as I read over my last post below before the election trying to persuade others – in knowing vain – not to vote for Trump.
I recognized that trying to change minds about candidate selection in the 2016 Presidential election is likely an exercise in futility. I’m disheartened that this is so because to me the correct choice of candidate – Hillary Clinton – has never been less difficult to make. Futile as it may be, the lawyer in me cannot muzzle the desire to at least make an attempt to persuade.
Yesterday on Facebook I urged those thinking about voting for Mr. Trump for President in Tuesday’s general election to please read conservative columnist Michael Gerson’s last op/ed in the Washington Post before the election – and then to read it again before going out to vote. I still recommend that course of action to the supporters of Mr. Trump and the Gerson piece can be found here. (I also think late opinions as the election approaches by Orin Kerr and David Brooks, both with Burkean conservative sensibilities, are worth consideration by Trump supporters).
Today, however, I recommend that those thinking about voting for Trump devote some concerted attention to a host of conservative newspaper outlets. If, after reading Gerson, you are still considering voting for Mr. Trump on Tuesday at least consider the arguments advanced by the following forty-seven conservative newspapers in endorsing Hillary Clinton for President (some of which have never endorsed a Democrat for President or have not done so in a Century; and all of them bar the Idaho Statesman endorsed Romney over Obama). I am sure I am missing some, but you get the idea of the large number and wide geographic representation with these: 1. DALLAS MORNING NEWS; 2. IDAHO STATESMAN; 3. ARIZONA REPUBLIC; 4. COLUMBUS DISPATCH; 5. SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE; 6. AL[ABAMA].com; 7. CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER; 8. HOUSTON CHRONICLE; 9. SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL; 10. BILLINGS GAZETTE; 11. CINCINNATI ENQUIRER; 12. DES MONIES REGISTER; 13. OMAHA WORLD HERALD; 14. FORT WORTH STAR TELEGRAM; 15. ORLANDO SENTINEL; 16. CHARLESTON GAZETTE_MAIL; 17. JOPLIN GLOBE; 18. PALM SPRINGS DESERT SUN; 19. SPOKANE SPOKESMAN REVIEW; 20. BLUEFIELD DAILY TELEGRAPH; 21. PENNSYLVANIA TRIBUNE-DEMOCRAT; 22. MASSACHUSETTS EAGLE TRIBUNE; 23. PEORIA JOURNAL STAR; 24. LOVELAND REPORTER HERALD; 25. MIDLAND DAILY NEWS; 26. LONGMONT TIMES CALL; 27. THE BEND BULLETIN; 28. FOSTER’S DAILY DEMOCRAT; 29. WISCONSIN STATE JOURNAL; 30. THE COLOMBIAN; 31. BLOOMINGTON PANTAGRAPH; 32. DECATUR HERALD & REVIEW; 33. CANON CITY DAILY RECORD; 34. IOWA CITY PRESS CITIZEN; 35. ARLINGTON HEIGHTS DAILY HERALD; 36. THE NORWICH BULLETIN; 37. QUAD CITY TIMES; 38. CAPE CODE TIMES; 39. THE SOUTHERN ILLINOISAN; 40. GALVESTON COUNTY DAILY NEWS; 41. BEAUMONT ENTERPRISE; 42. CEDAR RAPIDS GAZETTE; 43. NEWPORT DAILY PRESS; 44. RENO GAZETTE JOURNAL; 45. GRAND RAPIDS PRESS; 46. JACKSON CITY PATRIOT; 47. TRI CITY HERALD. Many more conservative newspapers have put forward “not Trump” endorsements. The arguments are similar, but I do not list them because if you are not voting for a third party you risk contributing to the election of Mr. Trump’s even if you are opposed.
Unless you believe what de Tocqueville called the “great experiment” in American democracy is a failure and needs replacing, before you vote for Mr. Trump please consider one more thing; what a promising Springfield, Illinois lawyer (and future first Republican President) warned against in his first public address of importance in 1838. Its application to Mr. Trump is eerie. All the emphasis below is mine.
Lincoln’s 1838 address about The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions is a lament about the erosion of the rule of law and the potential rise of a lawless demagogue in the United States. Lincoln opened his address by highlighting the widely reported brutalization and murder of immigrants, slaves, and abolitionists by vigilante mobs across the country who went unpunished. He warned against the:
“growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passions, in lieu of the sober judgments of Courts; and the worse than savage, mobs for the executive ministers of justice.”
Lincoln then drilled down into horrendous examples vigilanteism from the State of Mississippi (hangings) and St. Louis, Missouri (burning a man alive) with a view to rhetorically asking himself what these savage, unpunished extra-judicial killings had to do with the perpetuation of political institutions in the United States. His answer is a powerful defense of the rule of law and its instrumental function in democratic governance. More than that, though, Lincoln presaged how the disrespect and erosion of the rule of law would lead to high dissatisfaction with the government, even among those inclined to respect and defend it. Lincoln spoke:
When men take it in their heads to day, to hang gamblers, or burn murderers, they should recollect, that, in the confusion usually attending such transactions, they will be as likely to hang or burn some one who is neither a gambler nor a murderer as one who is; and that, acting upon the example they set, the mob of to-morrow, may, and probably will, hang or burn some of them by the very same mistake. And not only so; the innocent, those who have ever set their faces against violations of law in every shape, alike with the guilty, fall victims to the ravages of mob law; and thus it goes on, step by step, till all the walls erected for the defense of the persons and property of individuals, are trodden down, and disregarded. But all this even, is not the full extent of the evil.–By such examples, by instances of the perpetrators of such acts going unpunished, the lawless in spirit, are encouraged to become lawless in practice; and having been used to no restraint, but dread of punishment, they thus become, absolutely unrestrained.–Having ever regarded Government as their deadliest bane, they make a jubilee of the suspension of its operations; and pray for nothing so much, as its total annihilation. While, on the other hand, good men, men who love tranquility, who desire to abide by the laws, and enjoy their benefits, who would gladly spill their blood in the defense of their country; seeing their property destroyed; their families insulted, and their lives endangered; their persons injured; and seeing nothing in prospect that forebodes a change for the better; become tired of, and disgusted with, a Government that offers them no protection; and are not much averse to a change in which they imagine they have nothing to lose. … Whenever this effect shall be produced among us; whenever the vicious portion of population shall be permitted to gather in bands of hundreds and thousands, and burn churches, ravage and rob provision-stores, throw printing presses into rivers, shoot editors, and hang and burn obnoxious persons at pleasure, and with impunity; depend on it, this Government cannot last. By such things, the feelings of the best citizens will become more or less alienated from it; and thus it will be left without friends, or with too few, and those few too weak, to make their friendship effectual. At such a time and under such circumstances, men of sufficient talent and ambition will not be wanting to seize the opportunity, strike the blow, and overturn that fair fabric, which for the last half century, has been the fondest hope, of the lovers of freedom, throughout the world.
Lincoln’s solution to the threats to the rule of law was “simple”:
“Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the Revolution, never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others. … Let reverence for the laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap–let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in Primers, spelling books, and in Almanacs;–let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation; and let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay, of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars.“
Lincoln then moved on to consider how an opportunist demagogue could promote and then exploit a break down in the rule of law. No doubt he had in mind the example of Andrew Jackson, whose Presidency had ended the year before in 1837. Jackson had been a widely supported populist despite his contempt for the rule of law shown in his disregard for the rights of Native Americans as defined by the Supreme Court, and his abuses as military commander in the Seminole War. Lincoln foresaw the breakdown of the rule of law as prelude to a tyrannical ruler, which he regarded as the true inevitable threat from within. Lincoln said, “If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”
Lincoln thought it only a matter of time until a usurper challenged the purpose for which the founders had established American political institutions — to demonstrate to the world “the capability of a people to govern themselves.” He said:
“It is to deny, what the history of the world tells us is true, to suppose that men of ambition and talents will not continue to spring up amongst us. And, when they do, they will as naturally seek the gratification of their ruling passion, as others have so done before them. The question then, is, can that gratification be found in supporting and maintaining an edifice that has been erected by others? Most certainly it cannot. … Distinction will be his paramount object, and although he would as willingly, perhaps more so, acquire it by doing good as harm; yet, that opportunity being past, and nothing left to be done in the way of building up, he would set boldly to the task of pulling down.“
The solution for Lincoln here was also simple: “it will require the people to be united with each other, attached to the government and laws, and generally intelligent, to successfully frustrate his designs.” More than that though, Lincoln placed his faith in reason. With reason the temple of liberty could be made to persist as long as possible. He finished his oration invoking the founders and Washington in particular. He claimed:
that temple must fall, unless we, their descendants, supply their places with other pillars, hewn from the solid quarry of sober reason. Passion has helped us; but can do so no more. It will in future be our enemy. Reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason, must furnish all the materials for our future support and defence.–Let those materials be moulded into general intelligence, sound morality, and in particular, a reverence for the constitution and laws: and, that we improved to the last; that we remained free to the last; that we revered his name to the last; that, during his long sleep, we permitted no hostile foot to pass over or desecrate his resting place; shall be that which to learn the last trump shall awaken our WASHINGTON.
Please let not Donald Trump be the one to destroy the temple; to corrupt the political toil of our ancestors; to profane the sacrifices of the succeeding generations who fought and died to defend their great experiment. Let the last trumpet awaken Hillary Clinton as our Washington and allow her to trump Trump.