With our understandable November 8 obsession, little brain power remains to ponder January 20 and beyond. In only two weeks, our nation will elect its 45th president, but just ten weeks after that the winner will sit in the Oval Office. Then it’s time to govern.
Our anxiety for President Obama’s successor should match the levels we feel for Election Day. Consider the likely Clinton presidency. Due to mathematics and Republican candidates slow to distance themselves from a controversial GOP presidential nominee, the Democrats have a great shot at gaining the majority in the Senate. Hopes of a House revolution, however, are unrealistic. The next Congress — and, as a result, the U.S. government — will remain divided.
Moreover, most of the House Republicans will earn their next term through the ballots of overwhelmingly Republican districts, including ones that are passionately pro-Trump. Gerrymandering has given us remarkably few competitive House races; common estimates range from just 25 to 38 of the 438, or six to nine percent. The respected, non-partisan Cook Report‘s estimate of Republican-held toss-up districts is just 17 out of 247 Republican held seats, or seven percent. In the other 93 percent of Republican districts, Republican voters will expect Republican Congressmen and women to stop the crooked, socialist Hillary Clinton; their jobs in Congress, two years later, will depend on having done so. Republican senators are not dissimilar; John McCain has already vowed to lead Republican senators in denying President Clinton’s appointments, which could leave us with an undermanned Supreme Court for four to eight more years in addition to “2016: The Year of Eight Justices” (c).
These certainties, in and of themselves, are neither surprising nor new. We’ve grown accustomed to Republican Congresses attempting to slow President Obama’s agenda, just as the Democrats tried to slow President Bush before him. We can therefore expect a Trump Administration to get similar resistance from Congressional Democrats. They, too, will have 200 or so members in the House alongside a powerful Democratic caucus in the Senate. Their jobs will be to represent Democrats back home who are apoplectic at Trump’s election and will count on their Congressmen and women to block anything the crazy fascist wants to do. Considering the Republican obstructionism during Obama’s administration, Democrats will be all too happy to return the favor during Trump’s.
Again, these are certainties. What I worry about now, though, is how recent rhetoric and threats have further shattered our broken government. In other words, “you thought things were bad before, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
Just like his promotion of birtherism, Trump is now trying to delegitimize the President’s likely successor. I don’t have a problem with him saying she would make a bad president. After all, that argument is made about opponents in every election, and there are plenty of good arguments against her in this one. But Trump takes it an unprecedented step further, saying someone has no right to run for the office itself. And now he’s done it twice.
Meanwhile, we know what’s become a “Lock her up!” tradition at his rallies, one which he relishes behind his podium. At the second debate his “You’d be in jail” and “special prosecutor” threats were high-profile proxies for the thousands in his flock. In the third debate, most infamously, Trump called her a “nasty woman” and admitted he might not respect the democratic transfer of power if he loses this election.
“But she is a nasty woman!” say not only Trump supporters, but Republicans at large. “And she shouldn’t be allowed to be president!”
Whether voters agree, however, is not the point. We voters can make all the criticisms we want. We’ve been saying stuff like “nasty,” “rigged,” “unfair,” “shouldn’t be allowed,” and “hideous hermaphroditical character” for the republic’s entire history. Recall the Election of 1800. Recall the Protestant skepticism many people felt toward the first major Catholic nominees for president, Al Smith and John Kennedy. And recall so much in between. Our officials, however, while they do engage in negative campaigning, rarely lower themselves to our overdramatic hyperbole. They have to be more responsible. When they did reach our depths, it was catastrophic for our nation — the southern part of the country seceded from the union over the election of Abraham Lincoln, who they regarded as illegitimate because no southern state wanted him to be president.
In other words, Americans clamoring for their own candidate and lambasting their opponents is not new, but what is new is a candidate so irresponsibly debasing himself to the point where he resembles someone running for the president of the Banana Republic. We voters are held to no standards, but our candidates are invested with verbal responsibility. That leadership can include prosecuting a case against one’s opponent, but it should not include setting fire to the fundamental pillars of our democracy and encouraging others to join him as brothers in arson. The house would not be able to stand.
Though prior Hillary haters planted the seeds of Republican discontent, it’s Trump who has nurtured the vine growing up her pantsuit. After she wins, the Republican-led House will be replete with officials that represent voters who want to follow up on Trump’s suspicions and accusations. They’ll want investigations into the election, investigations into the media, investigations into her past crimes, and investigations into past investigations. Government will come to a halt, again, as our representatives prioritize condemnation and re-election over the business of governing. Those will sound like frustrating priorities to Democrats and many Independents, but to Republicans, especially Trumpeters, they are necessary.
Again, Democrats are not at all immune to questioning the legitimacy of a presidency or having misplaced priorities. We all know Democrats who refused to acknowledge George W. Bush as the winner of the 2000 Election, and we can imagine the Democratic resistance to a Trump presidency. Both parties’ path to re-election goes through fighting the opposing party. That’s become more pronounced as both parties have gradually been taken over by more extreme ideologues; Congressional Republicans, as a group, have never been more conservative and Democrats never more liberal. As a result, as Congress grows more divided and hateful toward the other side, many Americans, like Stealers Wheel, feel stuck in the middle with you.
What we need, then, is any sign that our leaders can have cooler heads than the rabid, out-for-blood voters electing them to office. Neither of our major presidential candidates have shown such signs in this election, but it is the opinion of PPFA that one of them is eagerly exacerbating the problem.