Opinion | Charles Fried

Have an open mind, but hold Trump accountable

President-elect Donald J. Trump speaking at a “Thank You Tour 2016” rally in Orlando, Fla., on Dec.16.
President-elect Donald J. Trump speaking at a “Thank You Tour 2016” rally in Orlando, Fla., on Dec.16.(Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

I was one of many Republicans who stated publicly and vehemently that we considered Donald Trump so unsuited to be president that our duty to the country required that, holding our noses, we support his Democrat opponent. We did not prevail.

Donald Trump is our president for the next four years. The correct response to this fact is the one Barack Obama took after he met with the president-elect at the White House: We must hope that he succeeds. This reaction is the opposite of what the once good and patriotic politician Mitch McConnell told his party during the midterm elections in 2010: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” Of course, if Obama failed, so did the country.


As our president, Trump is entitled to our respect and support. When he does something right, we should applaud, as when he prevented the disgraceful move by the Republican House this week to gut the independent ethics mechanisms that had injected a note of order and honesty into an institution in whose honesty and good faith the American public had lost all confidence. Good for Trump!

We must also keep open minds. For instance, Trump may be right on China. We have been far too indulgent to Chinese manipulations that have found all kinds of tricks and pretexts to keep out US products and have put unreasonable demands and conditions on allowing us to enter their manufacturing, finance, and service sectors. We should not forget that China isn’t a free-market economy operating under the rule of law, but a prime example of crony capitalism controlled by a ruthless and iron dictatorship.

There will be times when what the president wants to do will be part wrong and part right, and our duty as loyal Americans is to push and persuade and bargain so that the balance is a good or at least tolerable one. But there will be times when Trump is wrong and we must oppose him with all our hearts. Consider his support of Vladimir Putin. It was Ronald Reagan who called the Soviet Union the evil empire, who urged Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall,” and who liberated Eastern Europe from half a century of helot status. Now Trump is asking us to indulge a man, a shrewd KGB liar and killer, who by overt and covert means is seeking to reconstitute that very evil empire Reagan helped dismantle. We cannot let this happen.


Charles Fried, who teaches constitutional law at Harvard Law School, was solicitor general of the United States from 1985 to 1989.