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Loyal opposition

Posted by Ron George on November 19, 2016

“We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it.” (Edward R. Murrow)

President-elect Donald J. Trump

President-elect Donald J. Trump

I didn’t vote for Donald Trump, but he’s still my president, whether I like it or not. It’s simply appalling that so many people like me – albeit a vocal minority – seem ready to commit a grievous sin against our democratic republic by declaring that Mr. Trump is not their president. Frankly, it’s absurd on its face, more tantrum than protest.

Mr. Trump is, in fact, the president of the United States and all its citizens. Those of us who disagree with his politics or even despise him as a person are nevertheless called to engage the role of loyal opposition. It’s our patriotic duty and ethical obligation. For some, it may even be a moral imperative, as we may be obliged by whatever higher power we acknowledge to accept the authority – if not the politics – of those who govern.

It’s almost pathetic to hear House and Senate Democrats calling on Mr. Trump to rescind the appointments of those he’s picked to run his White House. Such behavior accomplishes nothing more than advertise political impotence. Mr. Trump won the presidency – though not the popular vote – and now he’s hiring people who support his nationalist agenda. It’s time for people like me to get over our disappointment and move on toward coherent, political opposition to the Trump administration that rises above impotent outrage, blame mongering, name-calling and infantile resentment.

A good first step would be to take our cues from Mr. Obama, whose first meeting with the president-elect was remarkable for the prudence and courtesy both men displayed, despite 18 months of campaign rhetoric and years of antipathy over the so-called birther issue. Mr. Obama, without doubt, will not cease to be a critic and opponent of Mr. Trump’s policies, and Mr. Trump will doubtless fulfill many of his campaign promises to dismantle Mr. Obama’s presidential legacy. The essence of their political relationship, however, now that the election is over, must be that of honorable, profound disagreement while acknowledging that America’s political system is populated by people who believe they are doing the right thing.

Our political system seems to have evolved into an all-or-nothing combat zone where compromise and consensus are considered signs of weakness. Our discourse tends to be coarse, rude and unprincipled. Our elections have become scorched-earth shouting matches. The very idea of believing one’s opponents are also loyal Americans seems to have been cast aside. Political opponents nowadays are considered enemies.

Folks, we simply must stop speaking to each other this way. It’s corrosive, and its weakening the fabric of our society and ultimately will put the nation at risk. For people like me in 2016, it’s incumbent that we become the loyal opposition – conscientious, patriotic Americans who are utterly opposed to Mr. Trump’s vision of American greatness.

Loyal opposition is not the kind of obstruction our – yes, our – Republican Congress has thrown against the presidential administration of Barak Obama. Congressional Republicans have engaged in disloyal opposition for the past six years, blocking the president’s legislative initiatives and appointees, resolutely declining to negotiate compromise solutions to critical issues affecting American lives. This flagrant abuse of power has been aimed, fundamentally, at humiliating Mr. Obama politically and personally, even though he won two national elections by significant margins.

Anti-Trump demonstrators in New York City: Tantrum not protest.

Anti-Trump demonstrators in New York City: Tantrum not protest.

The essence of loyal opposition is dialogue, in which opposing sides of an issue seek resolution. Loyal opponents are always going to be at a disadvantage in dialogue with those with greater political power, but that doesn’t mean we quit and go home. It means we bring our case to the table and not our outrage and resentment. To make our case, we must see our position from the other guy’s perspective or from as many perspectives as the issue demands; and, we must always be able to give an account of the politics of an issue who is affected and to what extent, not just how or whether they vote and in what numbers. 

Our case must be rational – based on data – and even though that hasn’t lately been the most effective way to make an argument, we must also believe that, eventually, reason will prevail, even in politics. We are, after all, inheritors of a philosophically enlightened tradition that has, for the most part, been the driving force of American greatness, whatever that may mean regardless of where one abides on the political spectrum.

Our case must be made clear and made public, because loyal opposition does little good behind closed doors. Loyal opponents don’t have to give up protest as a means of communication, but let the protest be legitimate, rational and a way of saying what we’re for as well as what we’re against. Protests are impotent without solutions.

Loyal opponents must be critical of their own ideas, especially where these have been put in play and haven’t worked. For liberals like me, it may very well be true that big-government solutions are not always the answer, despite my assumption that doing the most good for the most people implies government solutions because, well, this is a very large nation of more than 325 million people. Loyal opposition is not well served by self-righteousness.

Loyal opponents must be persistent but not relentless and certainly not shrill. There’s enough of that in the system, already, and we ought to do all we can to purge it. Frankly, even to me, that sounds like a formula for failure, at least in the short run, but I believe we ought to look far downfield toward recovering honorable discourse among political opponents that eschews the worst of what passes for dialogue on the Internet.

Above all, perhaps, loyal opponents treat the other side with decency and respect – and, yes, even if it doesn’t appear to be reciprocated. Grudges mitigate our efforts in this regard, and it’s not enough just to keep them under wraps. Get over it. Forgive. Forget. Then make your case.

Otherwise, I fear our politics will just get meaner as our nation collapses from within for having lost its soul.

 

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