If you vigorously opposed the campaign of Donald Trump, you might be suffering from some cognitive dissonance as his “Apprentice”-style transition plays out live. If you’re one of the millions who were offended by Trump’s cruel and bigoted statements — one of which was characterized by House Speaker Paul Ryan as being the “textbook definition” of racism — then you may be contemplating whether it’s even possible to root for our next head of government. I know I am. And navigating this terrain will require real nuance, even compartmentalization.
First, let’s get something straight: While Election Day delivered power to Republicans, the results resemble nothing even close to a “mandate.” The very idea is ridiculous. When you have a net loss of House seats on a map that is rigged to your advantage, a prosciutto-thin majority in the Senate, and you’ve lost the presidential popular vote by a record-breaking 2.5 million votes, you haven’t won the country. You’ve won constitutional power.
Nevertheless, it’s a lot of power. What can Trump do with it? This is a hard thing to discern since no one seems to know the man’s core. Or if there is a core. Through so many months of Trump’s bullying attacks, many Americans were asking: Does this guy really mean all of this disgusting stuff? Or is it merely performance, a cynical use of rhetorical devices to mow down his competitors?
What we do know is that Trump fully believes the ends justify the means, in every endeavor. He believes that people will ultimately value his wins above his sins. His entire M.O. seems to be geared toward attracting attention, power and praise.
The irony for Trump opponents is that as objectionable as the man’s personality traits are, they might just be the reasons the next President could achieve some good. Even whispering those last seven words will instantaneously attract vitriolic criticism from some progressives who are unable to set aside the ugliest parts of the man.
I get it. But in terms of policy, there is reason to believe that at least some of the monster was actually mask.
Did Trump really believe climate change was a hoax and that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris Treaty? Now we’re not sure. Torture? Not so much. Prosecuting Hillary Clinton? In mid-flip-flop. Will the President-elect completely eliminate the Affordable Care Act? His HHS nominee, Rep. Tom Price, sure wants to — but we’ve received mixed signals from Trump since Nov. 8. On the issue of rebuilding our country’s pathetic infrastructure, which Democrats have pushed for years, Trump seems serious about taking action. The Nasty President likes to build stuff.
To be clear, Trump’s early appointments and the imminent nomination of at least one Supreme Court justice will be monumentally disappointing to those who despise the values they represent. But this is what happens when political power is lost. It hurts. President Obama boiled it down best: “Elections have consequences.”
I hear a lot of anti-Trump folks now insisting that Democrats should immediately oppose every single objective sought by the incoming administration. I hear this from some of the very same people who were consistently outraged at the GOP’s cynical obstruction to Obama’s entire agenda from day one. They contend that this is now war, and the only thing that matters is winning the next election.
Setting aside the obvious hypocrisy in this attitude, it also creates a false choice. The polar approaches of fighting the new administration’s dangerous ideas while working with it where there is common ground are not mutually exclusive.
History repeatedly proves this point. Only a decade ago, Democrats were out of power on Capitol Hill and on Pennsylvania Avenue. They won back both chambers of Congress in 2006 and then the White House in 2008. You passionately oppose your opponents when you believe you’re in the right, and then you campaign on those issues to win the power to make your goals realities.
Many of us will never forget the damage Donald Trump has already wrought on our political discourse. At the same time, we can at least make an attempt to separate his mouth from his governance. We can try to be aware of that cognitive dissonance, and manage it.
F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” It can be a tough test. Not just individually, but as a citizenry. This has always been one of the great crucibles of American democracy.