When you clear away all the petty underbrush on both sides of the subject, what is resistance to Trump about? It’s about policy positions, absolutely, but it goes much deeper than that. It goes even beyond the issue of Trump’s crude, loutish behavior and ethically-challenged character. Beyond the Trump University fraud settlement and his famously vulgar bragging about committing sexual assault. Beyond his advocating violence against dissenters (“Knock the crap out of ‘em!”). The staunchest resistance to Trump is about something much more serious: his ongoing attempt to upend the system of government that was envisioned by the Founders and that has served us so well for more than two centuries. The system that all of us, with the possible exception of Trump himself, learned about in high school civics class.
It appears he is not so much into revolution, mind you, as he is insistent on brushing aside any aspect of our system that doesn’t conform to his wishes, anything that doesn’t support him. He loves chanting USA! USA!, but he is much less enthusiastic about small, complicated operational details like three independent branches of government, say, or a free press. He is, in essence, continuing to reiterate the statement he made at the Republican convention last year: “I’m the only one who can fix it.” It is hard to miss the powerful whiff of a messiah complex. Or at least “Hail Caesar.”
It’s important to examine the principle method he has used in the effort to remake government in his image, which is this: to destroy Americans’ trust in their own institutions. He has been very methodical in doing so, beginning with his questioning Barack Obama’s birthplace as a means to challenge his legitimacy as president. The judiciary, the press, the intelligence community, the State Department, the Environmental Protection Agency—he has questioned the legitimacy of all these and more. He even tried to cast doubts about the integrity of our electoral process, though that was of course prior to it performing in his favor. Who can forget: “The election is rigged! A disgrace!”
A measure of his success is the fact that even now, after all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies have unequivocally stated that Russian operatives attempted to sway the 2016 election in favor of Trump, about a third of Americans reject this idea. Additional polling shows that approval of Vladimir Putin, who recently denied Russia’s involvement in our election, has risen among Americans from about 15% to 28%. All of which is telling us that Trump’s campaign to de-legitimize our government institutions has been wildly successful. A substantial number of Americans seem to approve of a ruthless dictator, an adversary of the U.S., rather than the FBI.
Maybe you think this is all exaggerated. Is Trump really bent on de-legitimizing any person or agency that opposes him? You bet he is. And there’s one-stop shopping when you’re looking for proof.
Trump has consistently used his Twitter account to sow doubt or to plant ideas that are manifestly false or distorted. It is about controlling the flow of information to suit his purposes. The list extends from insults about “so-called” federal judges and about absurd claims of Obama wiretapping him in Trump Tower, to labeling the press as the enemy of the people and threatening James Comey with reprisals should his testimony to Congress be damaging to Trump. “Sinister” doesn’t do justice to this stuff.
This is the real mainspring of resistance to Trump. It recognizes him as a danger to our nation exponentially greater than something like ISIS, principally because he is not an external threat that we all recognize and rush to the battlements to defend against. He is not, like ISIS, a threat that can do us limited damage from which we can rebuild. He is a danger that can rob us of the very foundation on which have built our society.
Alexander Hamilton, writing in 1792, saw the danger of Trump very clearly.
“…when a man unprincipled in private life, desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper, possessed of considerable talents, despotic in his ordinary demeanor—known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty—when such a man is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity—to join in the cry of danger to liberty—to take every opportunity of embarrassing the General Government and bringing it under suspicion—to flatter and fall in with all the nonsense of the zealots of the day—it may be justly suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may ride the storm and direct the whirlwind. …No popular government was every without it its Catalines and its Caesars. These are its true enemies.”
I’m with Hamilton. And with the Resistance.