The Past Two Weeks or: The Moral Obligation to Defend Liberty

November 19, 2016

, like so many others, did not foresee Mr. Trump’s election.  Of course, as the nominee of one of our nation’s two major parties, I understood Mr. Trump’s chances to fall within a mathematical realm of possibility, but I admit that such clinical assessments were outweighed by a fundamental faith in the basic decency and good sense of my fellow Americans.  And while it may be viewed as undemocratic, or worse yet, condescending to say so, that faith has been strained to the point of breaking by the events of the past two weeks.

After two weeks of reflection, commiseration, and at times outright despondency, I am no closer to understanding how nearly half of my fellow citizens saw fit to entrust the Presidency to a man so uniquely unqualified by dent of temperament or experience for that office.  This is a man, as we must continually remind ourselves, who cruelly mimicked a disabled reporter and insulted a Gold Star family.  This is a man who maligned immigrants from a neighboring country as “murderers” and “rapists,” instead of the latest to seek a better future in a land our forefathers came to with similar hopes.

In so doing, he denied our shared history and appealed to our basest instincts.  This is a man who said he prefers war heroes who did not suffer the misfortune of falling into enemy hands.  This is a man who speaks of women not as equals but as objects of domination and sexual violence.  He has stated that Muslim-Americans should be forced to enter some sort of registry – ignorant or uncaring of the historical precedents that make such a proposition horrifying.
This is a man whose narcissism and insecurity impel him to respond to the slightest provocation or criticism, and coo at the most disingenuous and transparently manipulative flattery.  This is a man whose election was aided by the nefarious acts of a foreign leader who jails and murders dissidents.We all know this. How could we not? And yet roughly half of the American people saw fit to entrust him with our nation’s highest office – one once held by Jefferson and Lincoln and Roosevelt.

In the wake of this stunning choice, the remainder (or should I say majority) of us are forced to ask why.  There, we are given a menu of unsatisfying options from which to choose.  For example, we are told that Trump won because he spoke to the social and economic dislocation of the white working class.  He donned a red hat and adopted an empty slogan upon which voters could hang a wide assortment of grievances.  Never mind that Trump offered no concrete solutions to address these grievances.  Never mind that so many of these grievances were the misguided imaginings of Macedonian teenagers peddling social media fiction that would make the Editorial Board of the National Enquirer blush.

Others argue that Trump won because the Democratic Party nominated a person too beholden to special interests, too wooden, too secretive.  Should Hillary Clinton have used a private server?  Of course not.  Is the avarice of her and her husband off-putting? Yes.  But she was also imminently qualified, hard working, thoughtful, and intelligent.  And her policy prescriptions were based on inclusion, progress, and hope rather than separation, regression, and anger.  There is also the added bonus that she spoke in complete sentences.  To my mind, elections are about weighing the experience, temperament, and ideas of two imperfect candidates and choosing the person best suited to the job.  Perfection is not on offer.  A democracy should be viewed as a set of obligations discharged by its citizenry and not a form of spectacle or entertainment.

In the end, however, I think it best to draw our own conclusions, focused less on the past and more on the immediate future.  I offer my own.  The first is that we must not normalize Mr. Trump.  There is nothing normal about his personality, his actions, or his temperament. If this election had been a debate about the proper role of government or marginal tax rates, I would have expressed my views, cast my vote, and given the eventual winner my best wishes – Republican or Democrat.  After all, in America, we are taught that after an election, we must respect the will of the people and unify behind our leaders.  But since Trump has seen fit to violate nearly every norm of our democratic process, I feel liberated to take a different tact. I do not respect this man. I do not wish him or his administration well. I will use whatever power and privilege I possess to oppose him and his policies. And I will work to ensure that history’s verdict is both unkind and unequivocal.

Second, I commit to each day take at least one small step to affirm democracy and our place in it. I will join advocacy organizations like the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center.  I will sign petitions, even if unsure of their efficacy.  I will share my views and not be silent, even if my views make others uncomfortable or make me uncomfortable.  I will fight, in whatever way I can, for the country I love.

Finally, I will do my best to act in the absence of leadership.  I think many progressives, myself included, became a bit complacent over the past eight years.  I felt myself blessed to have a President whose values, intellect, and character allowed me to shirk some of my obligations of citizenship. Let this be a reminder that no one man or woman, however great, can carry the full load.  That load belongs to all people of good will, and I commit to carry my part from this day forward, even if I am presently unsure of what that carrying might entail.


M. David Ruff


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