In the days since the election, we’ve heard a few consistent messages:
—We need to come together and support Trump because the peaceful transfer of power is crucial to our democracy;
—We need to put aside our differences and unite as a nation;
—We need to acknowledge the other side and not automatically assume that anyone across the political aisle is evil.
The real issue at the heart of these three messages is relativism: there is no absolute, objective truth, like “Trump is bad” or “Democrats are good”. We have to support Trump’s election because accepting him, relative to the chaos that the failure of a peaceful transfer of power would bring, is necessary.We have to give every argument a fair hearing. One man’s meat is another man’s poison.
We’d like to challenge this relativism. One senses that many Americans would like to challenge it, feeling that there is something different about this situation, that rejecting Trump is not just petty party politics but a way to take a stand for justice. They are right.
What is our basis for saying this, our objective truth? Well, in this context, there is only one objective truth to turn to. We are Americans. We were educated so that we can understand how our government was framed, how it is supposed to work, and what its goals are—both literal, as in what tasks it is supposed to perform, and more figurative, as in what impact it is meant to have, what kind of nation and people it is meant to create.
Our federal government, as described in the Constitution, was created to balance power between three branches of government. Two of those branches are representative, in that we vote people into their offices. The judiciary is appointed by our representatives. The executive branch handles foreign policy and is the commander-in-chief of our armed forces. The legislatures creates laws. The judiciary reviews laws to be sure they are constitutional, and amends or invalidates laws that are not.
Our Constitution states that the goal of our nation is to offer liberty and justice to all, and to protect citizens’ right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It says that we can only protect those rights for all if we offer them to all (that took a few amendments, to extend those rights to non-whites and women, but it got done). It says, in the Bill of Rights, that we have immense personal liberty to worship as we please, speak and write as we please, and generally do as we please—so long as we do not infringe on someone else’s rights by doing that. It’s a balancing act in which our right to liberty is checked by other’s rights to liberty.
Fulfilling these terms has led our judiciary and Congress to pass laws guaranteeing equality of opportunity; laws that give every American as level a playing field for success as we can, through public education that is mixed and equal, through sexual harassment laws, anti-discrimination laws, and more.
These are the objective truths of American government, our Constitution, and our goals as a nation.
Therefore, these are the standards by which we must measure any U.S. citizen. We judge presidents by them, we judge members of Congress by them, we judge state and local officials by them. We judge news outlets and social organizations by them.
And so we must judge Trump by them. When he says he will punish women who have abortions, when he says natural-born American citizens whose parents are not from the U.S. are biased and unworthy to serve in public office, when he says he doesn’t know if the Ku Klux Klan is a hate group, when he says he engages in sexual assault, when he says he will get rid of governmental organizations like the EPA that keep our air and water safe because they hurt big business—in all these cases, he is violating our principles of government and the goals of the American nation.
When his supporters say, as we heard many say over the past weeks and months, that a vote for Trump is a vote for the “angry white man”, and for white supremacy, they are violating liberty and justice for all. When his supporters say Muslims should not be allowed to live in America, they violate the First Amendment.
And most of all, when his supporters say what they want most is for Trump to destroy the federal government, they are striking at the very heart of our nation.
So there is an objective reason for Americans to oppose Trump. He opposes America.
Peaceful transfer of power is important in a democracy—but we have to put the democracy first. We will peacefully transfer power to Trump, but we will not peacefully give him the power to destroy our democracy once he is in office. If all we preserve of our democracy is transfer of power, we don’t really have anything left.
We do not need to come together and support Trump. We need to come together to do what we can to oppose him when he violates our Constitution and our laws and our heritage, and support him when he does not.
We cannot put aside our differences with those who would destroy the American way of life as expressed in our Constitution and system of law. We have to try to get them to see the error of their ways, not say that their opinions are equally valid.
Anyone who wants to destroy this nation’s system of government and commitment to liberty and justice for all is, in our opinion, either evil or extremely dangerous. They cannot be allowed to carry out their mission on the basis of “fairness”. This is not a question of which political party you belong to. It’s a question of whether you hold the American commitment to liberty and justice for all dear.
This is the only objective truth we can call upon when discussing politics, the only way that does not degenerate into relativism. It’s the yardstick we must use as we move forward.
6 thoughts on “Trump, protest, and being “fair””
For clarification and honesty purposes before I start this comment: I am a conservative who did NOT vote for Trump, not only because I disagree with much of his message, but primarily because my principles will not allow me to support someone who marginalizes people because of who they are.
Of the three “consistent messages” you mentioned, I would only wholeheartedly support the third one that we need to acknowledge the other side and not assume that they are evil. Though I infer that you and I come from different political persuasions I would agree with much of the content of this article.
But I take exception to these paragraphs:
“We must judge Trump by them. When he says he will punish women who have abortions, when he says natural-born American citizens whose parents are not from the U.S. are biased and unworthy to serve in public office, when he says he doesn’t know if the Ku Klux Klan is a hate group, when he says he engages in sexual assault, when he says he will get rid of governmental organizations like the EPA that keep our air and water safe because they hurt big business—in all these cases, he is violating our principles of government and the goals of the American nation.
When his supporters say, as we heard many say over the past weeks and months, that a vote for Trump is a vote for the “angry white man”, and for white supremacy, they are violating liberty and justice for all. When his supporters say Muslims should not be allowed to live in America, they violate the First Amendment.”
In these paragraphs you only speak to the words that Trump and his supporters have said. Can words alone really be a violation? Wouldn’t it require actions on Trump’s part in order to cross over from useless rhetoric into the category of a violation of someone’s rights? It is a dangerous thing in a free democracy to begin punishing people for their words alone. Regardless of our persuasions, the right to speak and think as we choose, regardless of how singular, far-fetched, or evil our words and thoughts may seem to others, is a right that protects us all. We must remember that we may not always be in the majority and even if we are the minority voice we would still want our voice protected.
You finish by saying, “We have to try to get them to see the error of their ways, not say that their opinions are equally valid.” If we think others are in error in their thinking or their speech, then yes we have every right, perhaps even a responsibility, to attempt to get them to see the error of their ways– we must speak up as loud as we can. I have no issue with the non-violent protests and the speaking up that has been done all over social media and everywhere else people choose to voice their opinions. And certainly we all have the right to judge another person’s opinion as not being valid. But while the opinion may not be equally valid, I do believe it is equally deserving of being heard and analyzed and judged to determine its validity in a democratic sphere. Unfortunately, throughout this election process, I feel like my opinion is frequently categorized as invalid because I don’t identify with either the rabid far-right or far-left. The message I have heard for months is that I’m not allowed to be somewhere in the middle.
I am not happy with the outcome of November 8– but I would have been equally unhappy with either outcome. I think as a nation, we have lost some of the beauty and honor of our democracy throughout this whole election contest. But I am an eternal optimist and I would like to think despite all of the vitriolic things that have been spoken by Trump, that when he actually takes the reins in Washington our constitutional system of representative government, coupled with the common human decency and love of neighbor of the American people, will prevail to deter him from putting into action the words he has spoken.
Hello Sandra; thank you for your thoughtful response. Words are also part of our national history. Our Bill of Rights protects freedom of speech because words can be dangerous. Many Supreme Court cases have tackled the problem of how powerful words actually are, most famously in the examples of hate speech. We all know about “shouting “fire!” in a crowded theater” when there’s no fire; people stampede out in a panic and people die, for no reason. So sometimes words can do harm. It’s illegal to say you’re going to kill a public official.
But beyond that, if Trump and his supporters say they want to destroy our government, they are quite likely to actually do it. We must take their words as signals of future actions. We’ve been amazed at the HP at how many times people will say, “Oh, Trump *says* that, but he just said it to get elected. He didn’t mean it/won’t really do it.”
That in itself is frightening, first in that we are apparently condoning saying anything it takes to get elected, even if you’re lying, but more so in that Trump believed he had to threaten our Constitution and promise to destroy our government in order to win the presidency.
To your point that we have to listen and analyze and judge speech, we completely agree—but it seems clear that we’ve already done that for the last 18 months, the duration of Trump’s campaign. We have had plenty of time to analyze his message, and it has consistently been one of destruction. So that moment is over, and we can safely move ahead in opposition to his message.
The middle is fine for politics, but there’s no middle ground between the stances of “destroy our government” and “save our government.” That’s an issue on which no American can be neutral. And we must respectfully differ with you: it’s impossible to be “equally unhappy” with a Clinton win because she would not have destroyed our government. To us, there is no greater unhappiness than Trump’s determination to do that.
We share your faith in the American people, though our faith in the people comes directly through our faith in our democratic system. It’s our representative democratic government that has made us great as a people. It’s what encourages our love of neighbor and our human decency—encourages them but also, crucially, enshrines them in law. Without those laws, we will lose our vision. We will lose our greatness. We will no longer be Americans.
So let’s fight for our government in the name of, and for the sake of, the American people.
You have put into words what I have been feeling since the election. Never have I felt this sense of unease; that we are at a crossroads in our nation’s history. It is as if some alien force has infiltrated our government and is attempting to normalize lying, nepotism at the highest levels, racist misanthropes (Bannon is more than a misogynist) at the right hand of the Commander-in-Chief, rule by social media tweets and hip shot politics.
I consider myself an American. Therefore I do not recognize Trump as the next president, because he does not reflect American values. He is an aberration. It is my fervent hope that politicians from both sides of the aisle and beyond stand up for the values that made America beacon to the world, and reject the President-Elect’s dark, un-American designs for our nation. Tyrants eventually fall. Trump is a would-be tyrant. May he never be allowed to become what he desires to be.
Wow. Where to begin… Your website comes across pompously as a definitive interpretation of history, which it is not. To begin, I did not support either Clinton or Trump during the election but I knew that I would need to accept the results if either one these extremely flawed candidates was elected. This resolve was made in order to support my country and its interests. And, yes, if either one of them were to act inappropriately as president I would be the first to point it out and call for justice and fairness to reign. You make a comment that we should not support Mr. Trump because he is “against America,” but you do not back up the fallacious claim with anything substantial. You claim that America is a democracy when technically it is not. It is a democratic republic, which is a representative form of government. If it were a pure democracy, for example, a candidate for president would win by popular vote and not an electoral college. You also incorrectly state “Our Constitution states that the goal of our nation is to offer liberty and justice to all, and to protect citizens’ right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This, of course, is false since those words are in the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution. Anyone who doesn’t know that has no business creating and operating a website about history. Your efforts would be more beneficial if you studied historical facts a little more carefully and took your strong opinions out of the mix so that anyone could read and benefit from the content.
Hello Dave. We observe the rules of civility here at the HP, so in future please post your comment, however critical, without personal insult. Yes, those words are in the Declaration, but our Constitution reinforces them with its tenets of personal, political, and national freedom, so it’s an authentic extrapolation. Readers before you have pointed out the perhaps hair-splitting difference between a “pure” and “representative” democracy, but we stand by our belief that one can safely call America a democracy. If the arguments we made to illustrate how at odds Trump is with the founding principles of our nation did not persuade you, perhaps you could a) offer your own or b) provide a cogent counter-argument.
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