Here at Popular Discourse, we aren’t big fans of brevity. But events over the past few weeks have called for at least some kind of response. So even though it’s Fourth Week at the University of Chicago and midterms are afoot, here comes yet another article.
By ETHAN GELFER || October 21, 2016
“I would like to promise and pledge to all of my voters and supporters and to all of the people of the United States that I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election, if I win.”
Those were actual words that exited an actual presidential nominee’s mouth in the day following a debate that self-destructed inside half an hour. We’ve documented Donald’s scandals in what we believe is its entirety here, but in reality its not even the obscenely inhuman force of offense and criminality (see: unconstitutional Muslim bans, sexual assault, etc), but rather the threat to institution that Donald Trump and his candidacy represents that scares me the most.
Much like every other nation, and to the consternation of many, the United States government and Constitution is not infallible. The republic is a socially constructed phenomenon that relies on continuous social agreement and cohesion to function. Authority, the rule of law, and power of the state are all derived from reification as a result of such socializations. In essence, we only have a government because we say we have a government.
That’s what makes Donald’s casual affronts to the pillars of democracy so dangerous. Traditions and customs affirm our commitment to the continued social reification of abstract institutions. Why do we refer to our chief executive solely as Mr. (and soon Madam) President? Why is it that when the President stands, no one sits? I submit that these aren’t random exertions of power that have become accepted, but rather these and other small traditions are vital to the perpetuation of our social fabric.
Unfortunately, Donald drags the Republican guard down with him as he goes. John McCain has suggested that the new Congress will still refuse to consider any Supreme Court nominees. Donald suggests that his supporters could seek Second Amendment remedies if Secretary Clinton were elected. He supports and encourages foreign intervention in the American election system. He suggests that subverting federal law makes him smart. He threatens to throw his political opponent in jail. And to top everything off, he suggests that he may not concede the election if he loses.
Trump apologians have already begun spinning the story by claiming that Al Gore, a Democrat, also refused to concede an election. Yet that situation is monumentally incomparable. To entertain the subject for a minute- Gore actually had a reason to contest the result, given that he won the popular vote (Donald has as good a chance as not to lose by double digits in the popular vote), and the margin of victory in Florida amounted to .009% of the vote in the state. Yes, there was a constitutional crisis in 2000. But when it became clear that the mechanisms of our government had not worked in his favor, Gore said the following:
“Other disputes have dragged on for weeks before reaching resolution. And each time, both the victor and the vanquished have accepted the result peacefully and in the spirit of reconciliation. So let it be with us. I know that many of my supporters are disappointed. I am, too. But our disappointment must be overcome by our love of country. And I say to our fellow members of the world community: Let no one see this contest as a sign of American weakness. The strength of American democracy is shown most clearly through the difficulties it can overcome.”
Al Gore was gracious even in the face of heartbreaking, unfair defeat. He signaled faith in our political process. Donald Trump is preparing to present himself as the polar opposite. I’m reminded of a quotation from The West Wing, a show that might as well now be considered fantasy; “This country is an idea, and one that’s lit the world for two centuries and treason against that idea is not just a crime against the living! This ground holds the graves of people who died for it, who gave what Lincoln called the last full measure of devotion, of fidelity.”
Yes, we can, and we should complain and protest Donald’s monumental disrespect for ethnic, racial and gender groups. Yes, we can, and we should complain and protest Donald’s inflammation of violence and violent rhetoric. Yes, we can, and we should complain and protest Donald’s utter lack of experience, understanding, or demonstration of education on anything remotely representing governing. But in my mind if there is one issue to protest, if there is one truly disqualifying factor for this candidate, it is this flagrant disrespect for the guardrails of democracy. Our country only exists because we agree that it will. By suggesting that it doesn’t have to be that way, it won’t.
Donald, I hope I saw a human side of you at the Al Smith dinner yesterday. I hope you were as uncomfortable and embarrassed of yourself as I was of you. I hope you understand what you are doing to this country. I hope you understand that you are quite literally the greatest threat to the structure of the world’s oldest democracy at present. Because if you understand that, there’s still time to salvage some of your dignity and some of this country. Please, for the sake of our country and our future, stop challenging these pillars of our existence.
Note: normally I try to refer to people I’m writing about by their proper titles. I hope to signal the rift I pointed to once again by referring to Mr. Trump in this article solely by his first name. I firmly believe in the need to reinforce and continually reify our social structure. Mr. Trump operates outside that social structure and thus I refuse to refer to him in the manner that operates in a world he seeks to destroy.
Ethan Gelfer is the Managing Editor of Popular Discourse. He is a first-year student at the University of Chicago.