By Editorial Board January 1 at 6:58 PM
“WHY DON’T you give up?”
That was one reader’s suggestion after voters ignored our advice and elected Donald Trump president.
Other readers proffered contrary counsel for the Trump era. We should oppose him at every turn, some say. Others, citing Mr. Trump’s hunger for approval, think we should jolly him along, ignore his more objectionable tweets and give plenty of positive reinforcement when he does something commendable.
None of those strategies strike us as quite right. But what should be the approach toward the coming Trump administration for those who saw his candidacy as not just unsupportable but dangerous?
Our argument that Mr. Trump was unfit to be president was based less on differences with his political views, as far as they could be discerned, than with the threat we feared he posed to democratic norms and civility: his celebration of violence at rallies, his scapegoating of entire religions and nationalities, his trading in lies and personal insults. We saw those — and continue to see them — as a challenge to a democratic system that has held the country together since the Civil War.
We understood his appeal to people frustrated with gridlock in Washington or convinced that a well-fed establishment is oblivious to their struggles. But channeling the pain of the left-behinds in Scranton, Pa., is not enough. It matters whether the remedies put forward will help or hurt. Voters may like to believe that Washington can improve their lives by slapping a tariff on foreign goods; that they can pay less in taxes and still keep all their government benefits; or that a corrupt elite is the source of all their problems. But wishing does not make it so.
That a plurality of voters were not sufficiently tempted by Mr. Trump’s nostrums offers some comfort, but only some; Mr. Trump won the vote that counts, for the electoral college. Therefore, the job is to evaluate him going forward.
In practice, that means monitoring to what extent Mr. Trump fulfills his promise to help those who have been bypassed by economic recovery. It means continuing to advocate policies that are essential to keep America safe and to promote peace and liberty overseas. Above all, the task for those who opposed Mr. Trump will be to stand up for the democratic norms that he seemed to threaten during his campaign.
The early returns on that score are mixed. Reassuringly, Mr. Trump promised on election night to be a uniter, and since then he has met with people who did not support him during the campaign. Less encouragingly, he continues to conceal his tax returns and other business information; he has not held a news conference since July; he has proposed no plan to disentangle his government responsibilities from his family business.
He threatened to take citizenship away from anyone who burned an American flag, a constitutionally protected act of protest. His frequent insults to the media, the Clintons, the casts of “Hamilton” and “Saturday Night Live,” Vanity Fair and so on seem beneath the dignity of the office he will soon inherit. For weeks he seemed mostly unperturbed by a rise in hate crimes since his election. And then there is his disturbing belittling of possible Russian interference in the election.
Those who opposed Mr. Trump should continue to call attention to these things — not to claim vindication, but to press for a different approach. The goal should be accountability, not automatic opposition. We do not root for Mr. Trump to fail; we root for the nation to succeed and prosper.