Between now and Jan. 20, when Donald Trump takes the oath of office as America’s 45th president, many Americans will wish for him to be a successful president.
I don’t want Trump to succeed. I want him to fail spectacularly.
I say this not because I don’t accept the outcome of last week’s election or because I don’t recognize him as my president. Trump won fair and square and will be the president for at least the next four years.
But make no mistake — success for Trump would be a disaster for America. If his campaign promises are to be taken at face value, his success would mean that tens of millions of Americans may lose health care insurance. It would mean a step back on fighting climate change that could have a catastrophic, even apocalyptic effect on the planet. It would mean a shredded social safety net and little federal attention to voting restrictions and structural racism in America’s criminal justice system. It would mean global instability and a weakening of American’s leadership role in the world. It would mean acquiescence to an assertive Russia and a weakening of the international institutions that help to maintain global order. It would mean disastrous trade wars and a domestic agenda that would do more to harm the people who voted for Trump than help them. It would mean mass deportation — and a humanitarian catastrophe — for millions of undocumented immigrants.
And even if Trump were inclined to reverse the threadbare policy positions, any kind of success for Trump means a tacit acceptance of the hatred and mistrust that he has sown in this nation over the past 16 months. It would mean making acceptable nativist, racist, and xenophobic hate. It would mean that the Trump supporters who have over the past week spray-painted swastikas on churches and schools or publicly accosted women, Jews, and people of color would be validated. It would mean looking the other way at misogyny and sexual assault and the mocking of the disabled. And it would mean zero accountability for a politician who has not only violated every imaginable democratic norm, but who lies and deceives practically every time he opens his mouth.
Success for Trump means normalizing the ascendancy of Stephen Bannon to a position of extraordinary political power within the halls of the White House. Under Bannon, the right-wing Breitbart News became the forum for white nationalists, Islamophobes, misogynists, and anti-Semites. You hear lots of people talking about the need for Americans to come together over the next few weeks and months. But how, as a Jewish-American, am I supposed to “come together” with a president who holds me in such disrespect that he appoints an anti-Semite to a position of such political power? I can’t, and I won’t.
What gives me fleeting hope is the knowledge that millions of Americans — a majority even — feel as I do. They are angry. They are scared for the future. They are holding their children just a little tighter and perhaps looking over their shoulders in ways they hadn’t done before. Like me, these Americans want Trump to fail. They want him to be rejected and have his ugly vision of American defeated. For many of them, Trump’s success is an existential threat.
During the campaign — at the same time that I was habitually wrong about the outcome of the election — I wrote repeatedly of the direct threat that Trump represented to our democracy. My fear is as palpable today as it was then. If Trump wants to take back the terrible things he said during the campaign or moderate his positions or even accept his own limitations, I’ll be the first to applaud it. But barring such an event, what America needs today is not acquiescence to Trump, but impassioned, principled, and consistent opposition. That will be my charge for the next four years.Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.