Sunday, November 13, 2016

November 2016: The New Normal

On Wednesday, the day after Election Day, in New York City (where both candidates gave their post-election speeches), the sky was cloudy and dark. The next day, it was sunny and warm for a November day.

As I watched the results come in on Tuesday night and gradually realized that it was not just a close election that would take a while before we saw the seemingly inevitable win for Hillary Clinton, but that Donald Trump had won decisively, I felt physically ill. I couldn't process the news. Calling the election an "upset" seemed to have a cruel double meaning. How could my country have elected a leader so odious and unqualified?

Encountering people on the street on Wednesday felt awkward, all of us aware of our national embarrassment. We heard reports of hate crimes committed by Trump supporters (some of which turned out to be hoaxes) and fears that America would descend into an authoritarian dystopia where overt bigotry runs rampant. Democrats and Republicans who had opposed Trump started thinking of charities to donate to and volunteer work to do, as if to offset the election results.

On the same day, we heard Hillary Clinton and President Obama speak about the news in an optimistic, level-headed way. The next day, the current and future presidents met for the first time and started working on the transition to the Trump administration. This is the new normal.

Accepting this will not mean acquiescing to everything, or even most things, that President Trump says or does. We should subject him to merciless scrutiny and criticism, just as we should with any other president. In fact, that will be possible only if we accept that he is legitimately the 45th President of the United States, and the time for protesting Trump's holding this office has passed. If you drown out any discussion of the specifics of his presidency with the familiar refrains that he's abnormal, racist, sexist, etc., you'll remove yourself from the realm of productive debates about the president.

Amid all the national squabbling about Trump that's been going on since June 16, 2015, a few indisputable facts stand out:

Trump said he'd run for president, and it was widely derided as something that would never happen, or, once he officially announced, as a short-lived publicity stunt.

Trump was right.

Trump said he'd win the Republican nomination, and virtually everyone said that wouldn't happen: he had a "hard ceiling" of support far below 50%, and eventually the rest of the field would narrow down to one main challenger who'd emerge as a consensus nominee.

Trump was right.

Trump said he'd win the presidency, and virtually every pundit said this was highly unlikely for any number of reasons: Clinton was ahead in the polls; she was the only one with a serious ground game; Trump had generally bombed the debates; his unfavorable rating was the highest of any presidential candidate in American history and especially bad with women and Hispanics; and it simply seemed implausible that such a person could ever be elected president.

Trump was right.

And he didn't win the election by just one state, as the most recent Republican president did twice. Trump apparently won Michigan, which was considered a blue state, and he won Pennsylvania, which was considered technically a swing state but with the footnote that no Republican candidate had won it since the '80s.

Trump has been wrong about many things. But on his ability to achieve his presidential goals, he's been more right than just about anyone else.

Of course, you might not want him to achieve his goals for his presidency.

But look at his long list of plans for his first 100 days in office. Some I disagree with, like tax cuts. Some are reiterations of unrealistic campaign themes, like getting Mexico to pay for a wall. Some I can't judge yet, like a vague promise to reduce corruption in Washington.

But some . . . actually seem like they just might be good ideas, like more school choice and streamlining the FDA's approval of medications.

And none of them involve turning America into a fascist dictatorship, forcibly removing citizens from the country, systematically violating due process, instituting apartheid, or squelching free speech.

It would be naive to expect any president to succeed in implementing all the best-sounding parts of their agenda. But if Trump is claiming he'll accomplish a number of things that sound like decent ideas, he might turn out to be right.

Let's wait and see. Let's give him a chance. And let's react to the particular things he does or doesn't do when he's in office, instead of unproductively agonizing over the general notion of him as president . . . as strange and troubling as that might be.