fb-pixel

None of this is normal.

The response to it can’t be normal either.

An executive order that bars refugees and green card holders from American shores and was issued without input from officials at the State Department, Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, the Pentagon, or Congress is not normal.

A president who call the news media the “opposition,” who derides as “fake news” any story he doesn’t like, and who labels as “betrayal” behavior by a public servant who won’t carry out a law she believes to be illegal, is not normal.

A president who continues to violate the Constitution’s Emolument Clause and continues to directly profit from his position as president is not normal.

Advertisement



A president who falsely claims that 3 million people illegally voted in last year’s presidential election is not normal.

A White House press secretary who says career State Department officials who disagree with the president’s policy should quit is not normal.

An International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement that fails to mention the Jewish people — and a White House that repeatedly defends that omission — is not normal.

I could go on with this theme, but you get the idea.

Eleven days in to Trump’s presidency, it’s nearly impossible to keep up with the daily outrages, dishonesty, and violations of basic political norms coming out of this administration. In a normal political moment any one of the incidents cited above would be a national scandal. Instead they are merely a daily, even hourly, reminder that America has careered off the tracks. Indeed, the experience of living in Trump’s America is discombobulating, unnerving, and emotionally draining. I honestly don’t know how long this can continue. I don’t know whether the country can withstand four years of this, and I genuinely wonder if we’re headed toward some sort of national nervous breakdown.

Advertisement



But what might be most telling about the past 11 days are not Trump’s actions — it’s the national response to them. It began the day after the inauguration, when somewhere between 3 million and 4 million Americans, in dozens of cities around the America, demonstrated against our new president. It continued last weekend, with spontaneous protests in multiple airports on Friday and Saturday, and metastasized into full-scale public demonstrations. On Sunday night I went to freezing cold downtown Manhattan to see thousands upon thousands of ordinary New Yorkers marching, holding signs, and chanting slogans in solidarity with refugees and immigrants. I’d never seen anything like this before.

This is not normal either.

While these protests may represent an organic, even visceral, reaction to Trump’s presidency, they also represent the clearest roadmap for how to respond to him. So much of what we’re seeing is a palpable sense among ordinary Americans that America is staring into the abyss.

If Trump was just putting in place bad policies or acting poorly, that would be one thing. But his actions point to something very different: a reversal of decades of social progress; the enshrinement of racist, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic policies at the highest levels of government; the abdication of America’s global leadership role, with potentially catastrophic consequences; the undermining of democratic norms; and a move toward authoritarianism. It’s because the threat from Trump seems so existential that the reaction has been so intense.

Advertisement



The signal being sent by the protests against Trump should be heard loud and clear by Democrats. There can be no accommodation with this and no acceptance that any of this is normal. This White House won’t moderate, and they will constantly push the envelope on every imaginable issue, unless there is pushback.

Indeed, the political considerations that would normally drive the actions of a party in opposition can largely be discarded. To be sure, the smartest political play for Democrats is almost certainly united opposition to an unpopular and unqualified president. And while I’m generally of the view that politicians will and probably should always act in ways that further their political interests, this isn’t about politics. What’s being fought for in the streets is not political advantage, but rather a vision of America that is not negotiable. Democrats are the only group in Washington with the power to fight for and uphold that vision. For them the path forward should be clear.


Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.