The period before any inauguration is always a grim moment for those who didn’t support the person taking the oath. What’s been happening this week, though, is unlike anything we’ve experienced in the living memory of Americans. The “resistance” to President-elect Donald Trump has taken the form of boycotts of the ceremony and counter-programming, including a mass women’s march in Washington the next day. That’s to say nothing of the blizzard of opprobrium directed not only at the president-elect but at anyone who is treating the festivities as if they were part of a normal transition of power. That this kind of nasty criticism is being flung at the Girl Scouts of America, of all organizations, for being one of the groups that will march in the inaugural parade, is significant.
That’s not just because the Scouts are a non-partisan organization taking part in an event which is traditionally considered above politics. It also illustrates that, for partisans in our increasingly bifurcated society, no one is allowed to be neutral in the battle to brand the Trump administration illegitimate.
Part of the blame for this belongs to Trump. His conduct during his campaign and willingness to indulge in extreme rhetoric about groups or individuals who he felt slighted him broke all the conventional rules by which we have always judged presidential candidates. But now that he is about to become president and has assembled a government that is, for the most part, composed of conservative Republicans, the discussion about Trump’s unfitness for office is moot. He must be judged by his deeds as president; not by our opinions about whether he deserved the right to sit at the big desk in the Oval Office.
To a large and vocal minority on the left, Trump isn’t just the guy who shouldn’t have won; his presidency is illegitimate.
We needn’t waste time debunking arguments that back up this assertion. If you don’t like the Electoral College, take it up with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, not Trump. And as despicable as Moscow’s tactics were, it’s ridiculous to assert that leaked emails saying almost nothing about Hillary Clinton herself had more of an impact on public opinion than the Democratic candidate’s credibility problems. Trump isn’t going to be a normal president anymore than he was a normal candidate, but none of that takes away the legitimacy that his 306 Electoral College votes conferred upon him.
Part of the problem for the left is that their protests seem not so much to revolve around the unique nature of a Trump presidency but around their disagreements with conservative positions on economic and social issues that are embraced by most Republicans. When liberals rant on Facebook about the Trump inaugural being the end of democracy or the prelude to a Weimar-like transition to fascism, they’re mostly complaining about conservative ideas regarding small government, health care, taxes, and abortion. That’s the focus of the Women’s March on Washington, in which the left will parade their contempt for the new government and for those women and girls who may have come to the capital to cheer the swearing-in of a new president.
All of which is to say that when you look at it closely, the talk of illegitimacy is nothing more than resentment at the defeat of a Democrat by a Republican. But in a country where citizens can now almost completely insolate themselves from opposing views on any issue in their social media feeds or choices about which outlets to read, listen to, or watch, agreeing to disagree about divisive issues is no longer possible. That’s why something as innocent as Girl Scouts joining in a non-partisan tradition like the inaugural parade has become controversial. Conceding the legitimacy of a president of the other party has become an act of political courage. For the left, the war on Trump transcends everything, including the notion of political civility that they fault the new president for failing to respect. If that means liberals must blast little girls as traitors to the feminist cause then so much the worse for them.
As was the case with those on the right who treated Barack Obama as illegitimate, the inaugural protests will only help Trump. But the fact that so many Americans are willing to act in this manner provides further evidence of the costs of a bifurcated political culture.