Why We Will Survive President Trump

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Demonstrators in New York City protest Donald Trump's election on November 9. Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

I am not freaking out about President Trump. Actually, that’s not true. I am absolutely freaking out about President Trump. But in my calmer moments, I tell myself it’s going to be OK. This is why.

Donald Trump is a salesman.

Trump does not build things, or make things: He sells things. This year, he managed to sell America on his vision of the future: wall with Mexico, ban on Muslims, etc. This is terrifying stuff, but it is also mostly bluster. His supporters seemed to know as much. Trump certainly knows it. That’s why his website has already been scrubbed of any mentions of the Muslim ban.

Trump has no ideology.

Trump has flip-flopped on the issues so much, he makes famous flip-flopper John Kerry look like a rock of principle. Whether on abortion or Iraq, you can find a clip of Trump saying one thing—and its exact opposite. This lack of moral center is maybe troubling, but it’s also oddly encouraging. Trump may be a political opponent of action on climate change, but he is not a zealot who sees every solar panel as an affront to American ideals. 

Trump’s power is limited.

He can thunder against Black Lives Matter protesters, but Trump will have severely limited (if any) power over the thousands of America’s municipal law enforcement departments, some of which have shown an inclination to reform. He may appoint as many as three Supreme Court justices—yet as of this summer, Barack Obama had appointed 329 judges to federal courts. And while he will have a great deal of influence over who leads federal agencies, he will find that those agencies—for example, the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice—answer to a higher authority than the presidency: the law.

The Senate is divided.

Yes, the Republicans have seized control Capitol Hill. But their margin in the Senate is very slim (51-48). Some of those Republicans, like Rob Portman of Ohio, have no fealty to Trump and thus could vote with Democrats. Far-right Republicans like Ted Cruz of Texas, on the other hand, may find a voice in opposing Trump from the trenches of principled conservatism.

The House has to act.

House Republicans like Jason Chaffetz of Utah were gearing up for four more years of Benghazi hearings and bluster about repealing Obamacare. Now they’re faced with a far more frightening prospect: having to legislate. Not only that, but they will have to do so under President Trump, who has his own (thus far) inscrutable agenda. With the 2018 midterms not all that far away, House Republicans need to show their constituents some legislative accomplishments. Those could well come at Trump’s expense.

The free press remains.

Despite Trump’s promise of lawsuits, the country’s free press has not been silenced. Candidate Trump could hide behind his company’s opaque dealings; a President Trump will have no such shield. The journalists I know are stunned by Trump’s victory—but also determined to make his presidency a fully transparent one.

The republic has survived worse.

My recommendation to a distraught friend on Wednesday morning was to read Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland, about the ascendancy of Richard Nixon throughout the 1950s and ’60s and his downfall in the 1970s. It will remind you that there are inherent fail-safes in American democracy, as there are on a jetliner, that prevent against disasters.