Wanted: Al­liance for the Repub­lic

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OPINION - EJ Dionne Colum­nist

Our coun­try needs a new era of bi­par­ti­san­ship — but not the kind you are prob­a­bly think­ing of, and not, I fear, the kind we are likely to get. Barely a week af­ter Don­ald Trump se­cured his Elec­toral Col­lege ma­jor­ity, we are con­fronted with a se­ries of abuses that would be un­ac­cept­able from any other pres­i­den­t­elect, Repub­li­can or Demo­crat. In the com­ing months and years, mem­bers of both par­ties who honor our con­sti­tu­tional rights and our shared eth­i­cal stan­dards need to band to­gether in what you might call an Al­liance for the Repub­lic to de­fend ba­sic norms and re­sist their vi­o­la­tion.

Trump’s defin­ing down of what we have a right to ex­pect from our lead­ers is al­ready ob­vi­ous. Be­gin with his nam­ing of Steve Ban­non as his chief strate­gist and se­nior ad­viser. The press re­lease an­nounc­ing the ap­point­ment listed Ban­non above Reince Priebus, the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee chair­man who was made chief of staff. Typ­i­cally, the chief of staff would come first, but the or­der­ing was a clear in­di­ca­tion of which of the two has Trump’s ear. Ban­non has proudly fos­tered the “alt-right,” a move­ment that pro­motes racism and anti-Semitism. Not sur­pris­ingly, Democrats were fu­ri­ous. “As long as a cham­pion of racial divi­sion is a step away from the Oval Of­fice,” Se­nate Demo­cratic leader Harry Reid de­clared in a floor speech, “it will be im­pos­si­ble to take Trump’s ef­forts to heal the na­tion se­ri­ously.”

Ku­dos to Reid for putting the bur­den on Trump to bring us to­gether af­ter his hate-filled cam­paign and for re­ject­ing the idea that this is a nor­mal tran­si­tion of power. Trump’s op­po­nents can­not be com­manded, in the name of comity and good man­ners, to be­have as if Trump never said what he said or did what he did.

But you don’t have to lis­ten to lib­er­als about Ban­non. In an essay on the web­site of the con­ser­va­tive Na­tional Re­view, Ian Tut­tle noted that Ban­non’s Bre­it­bart News web­site “has pro­vided a fo­rum for peo­ple who spend their days pho­to­shop­ping pic­tures of con­ser­va­tives into ovens” and that Ban­non’s ap­point­ment “should be a source of grave con­cern — and an oc­ca­sion for com­mon cause in the cru­cial task of the years to come: vig­i­lance.” Such vig­i­lance, alas, seems in short sup­ply among elected Repub­li­cans. House Speaker Paul Ryan, for one, was un­per­turbed by Ban­non. “This is a per­son who helped him win an in­cred­i­ble vic­tory,” Ryan gushed. “We’re con­fi­dent about mov­ing for­ward.” I guess we can’t ex­pect much in­de­pen­dent over­sight from the GOP House, given that a “Make Amer­ica Great Again” hat was placed on the seat of ev­ery cau­cus mem­ber at its Tues­day meet­ing. Is the House about to be re­duced to a cheer­ing sec­tion?

Then there is the role of Trump’s chil­dren and his sonin-law Jared Kush­ner in the tran­si­tion and the pres­i­dency it­self. The Trump op­er­a­tion re­sem­bles noth­ing so much as a me­dieval court — the word Byzan­tine comes to mind — in which fam­ily mem­bers align with pre­ferred aides and push oth­ers aside. This has al­ready thrown Trump’s ap­point­ments process into chaos.Trump’s defenders re­ply that if John F. Kennedy could name his brother Robert as at­tor­ney gen­eral, why can’t Trump rely on his kids? But the two sit­u­a­tions are not com­pa­ra­ble be­cause Trump has said that as pres­i­dent, he will deal with his vast busi­ness hold­ings by plac­ing them un­der the con­trol of his chil­dren. Un­der those cir­cum­stances, if his chil­dren con­tinue to play a cen­tral role in form­ing his ad­min­is­tra­tion and in­flu­enc­ing its poli­cies, the con­flicts of in­ter­est and op­por­tu­ni­ties for cor­rup­tion will be lim­it­less. Even if his kids weren’t such close ad­vis­ers, his plans for his eco­nomic em­pire would still be eth­i­cally laugh­able. As for­mer ethics lawyers for Pres­i­dents Obama and Ge­orge W. Bush wrote re­cently in The Wash­ing­ton Post, Trump’s ap­proach is “the op­po­site of a blind trust. It is a de­mand that the Amer­i­can peo­ple blindly trust Trump and his fam­ily.” And, by the way, con­trast Trump with for­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush, who wrote to his chil­dren six months be­fore he was elected pres­i­dent in 1988, “My plea is this: Please do not con­tact any fed­eral agency or depart­ment on any­thing.” Trump is sig­nal­ing that he’s pre­pared to run roughshod over the bench­marks of de­cency and (small “r”) repub­li­can govern­ment long en­dorsed across ide­o­log­i­cal lines. Left and right will have their dif­fer­ences over pol­icy. But if they don’t come to­gether from the start to thwart Trump’s de­par­tures from widely ac­cepted prac­tices and val­ues, our coun­try could face a very grim four years.

E.J. Dionne is syn­di­cated by The Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers Group.

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