Yesterday President Obama acknowledged his successor’s victory, saying that occupants of the White House learn quickly that the office is much bigger than any one individual.
I suppose the President meant to be reassuring. Sadly, he reminded us that in fact most occupants of the White House never learn the lesson.
How often have we watched Presidents confuse and abuse the powers of the office with their own personal agendas. Our first president may have been the last to show restraint. Time after time they have overreached, from Jefferson buying Louisiana to Polk invading Mexico to Lincoln exiling a rowdy Congressman.
Nixon deployed the IRS and FBI against his enemies and Bill Clinton chose tawdry scandal over honorable resignation.
Win or lose, half the country was going to feel disheartened by Tuesday’s result. For that we have only ourselves to blame. The outcome matters because we cared too much.
If our institutions were stronger, the outcome would not be nearly so important. Voters turned out in record numbers because they were driven by two impulses: First, to place imperial power into the hands of their candidate, and second, to deny the same power from the other.
We have been talking about nuclear codes as if we were giving a teenager keys to the car. How bizarre and disheartening. If there is any positive to come out of the past two years of mud-slinging it may be a consensus among the establishment parties to dethrone our president. “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown,” Henry said. Would that it were so.
OK, so I’m groping for straws here. Over the past few days I find myself looking for ways to rationalize the outcome and turn it into something positive.
I am not ready to relinquish my faith in the wisdom of the voters. Most Trump voters were not deplorables. Sure, some may be racist, homophobic, xenophobic, misogynistic. Were all Clinton voters cleaner than Caesar’s wife? I doubt it.
Far more Americans voted for party over their candidate, some holding their noses. They may have believed, rightly or wrongly, their candidate would advance their agenda. Others voted against the other candidate. And still others voted for change.
There were enough of the “change” voters for all of us to stop and think. Before Democrats recoil from the electoral result, they must remember that close to half of their number were “change” voters, too, supporting Bernie Sanders over Hillary in the primaries. Some of those “change” voters may have even voted for Trump.
I can’t blame them. Leaders should fight for their people against the status quo. When the VA scandal broke I wanted Obama to come out spitting bullets. Instead he dealt with the horror like a teacher who caught a student passing a note.
I am going to indulge in the fantasy that behind Trump a coalition will form of angry Bernie voters and frustrated Republicans. Nancy Pelosi has already welcomed a joint effort to invest in infrastructure. Who knows but we may end up building more bridges than walls.
Speaking of that wall: It’s not getting built. And that may be the most important outcome of this election. Our country is about to receive an invaluable civics lesson about governance.
For President Trump and many of his supporters, change is a straightforward matter. The president proposes and Congress disposes.
The reality is far messier. The wall will not be built. Nor will the Affordable Care Act be dismantled. Nobody is paying for a wall. And a majority of Congress is not going to take away a benefit that millions have come to value.
All voters need to learn those lessons. More importantly, they need to learn what the Wall Street Journal noted a few weeks ago: That both candidates are equally powerless to restore the jobs they are promising.
We are facing a tectonic shift in the work force. The middle class as we have known it is not coming back. By 2050 40% of jobs will be lost to automation, many not to be replaced. A 40-hour week may be a rare exception.
In short, the ultimate lesson of the next four years may be an invaluable one for millions of voters that confuse sound bites with sound thinking. We may end up with an electorate that understands that governing is hard and solutions are elusive.
At last we may all learn that the emperor has no clothes. This time, however, nobody will be laughing.