Foon Rhee

What it means to be the loyal opposition to Trump

Hillary Clinton spoke to supporters last week at the Children’s Defense Fund. “I ask you to stay engaged, stay engaged on every level,” she said. “That’s how we get through this.”
Hillary Clinton spoke to supporters last week at the Children’s Defense Fund. “I ask you to stay engaged, stay engaged on every level,” she said. “That’s how we get through this.” Associated Press

At Thanksgiving when I count my many blessings, near the top of the list as usual will be living in America, the greatest nation in the world.

But I can’t help but feel less joy and hope this year. It’s because, like so many others, I’m struggling to come to terms with Donald Trump as our next president. Even my mom somehow managed to tweet me Monday with #NotMyPresident, which is so mind-blowing on so many levels I can’t begin to tell you.

Two weeks after the shocking election, I’m still not quite at acceptance. I grieve for the welcoming country I thought we were, and fear for the divided nation we are; in a Gallup poll out Monday, a record 77 percent said America is split over important values. Not to sound too melodramatic about it, but I haven’t been this confused and despondent about the state of the world since right after the Sept. 11 attacks, and that was only months after I lost my dad.

I’m trying my best to heed the advice of President Barack Obama – to root for Trump to succeed like every other president. But Trump’s making it awfully difficult because he insists on not acting like other presidents – ignoring the usual steps to avoid business conflicts of interests, and inviting into his inner circle extremists who seem designed to further divide us.

Americans, by nature, are optimistic and want to see the best in people. But what if Trump is not just a turkey as president? What if he is really as horrible as some of us suspect – even a genuine threat to the republic?

What’s the right response then?

Some apparently are looking at moving to Canada – its immigration website crashed on election night – or elsewhere. I’m not one to run away. On a broader scale, the Calexit movement is a premature cop-out. Others have taken to the streets in protest. That’s not me, either.

Others are using any platform they can to make a stand. The Broadway cast of “Hamilton” urged Vice President-elect Mike Pence to protect the American diversity they represent. Some have issued a call to action, warning that our democratic institutions are at stake.

“Trump is the first candidate in memory who ran not for president but for autocrat – and won,” Masha Gessen writes in a widely shared piece in The New York Review of Books entitled “Autocracy: Rules for Survival.” I don’t agree with everything she writes, but it is provocative.

What I’ve decided is that if you love America but object to Trump, you have to be part of the loyal opposition. That means cooperating when called for, but resisting when required, especially when civil liberties are at stake.

It’s the approach that Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California says she’ll take as the new top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee in the new Congress. Even Obama is now saying that once Trump is in office, he’ll speak out if Trump is threatening our values and ideals. We can’t become numb to outrages. We can’t lower our standards and think, “Well, it could be worse.”

I also take solace and inspiration from Hillary Clinton. I can’t even imagine what she’s going through, but since the election, she has somehow managed to show grace and try to comfort those crushed by her devastating defeat.

In her only public speech since conceding, she said at the Children’s Defense Fund last week that she knows that many supporters are in despair and questioning their country, but urged them to keep the faith and stay engaged.

“The divisions laid bare by this election run deep … but please listen to me when I say this. America is worth it, our children are worth it,” she said. “Believe in our country, fight for our values and never, ever give up.”

For lowly editorial writers like yours truly, keeping the faith means watching Trump closely, praising him and the Republican Congress when they do good, but criticizing them when they don’t.

Oh, right, freedom of the press – that’s another thing that I’m thankful for and that makes America great. Unfortunately, it’s also another thing to worry about under Trump.

You might have noticed that he isn’t a big fan of the press. He attacked the national media relentlessly at campaign rallies (even though the cable networks helped create the Trump phenomenon), proposed making it easier to sue for libel and was a major purveyor of the plague of fake news.

For our democracy to work, it’s essential that an independent and aggressive press hold our public officials accountable, especially the most powerful. That doesn’t change no matter how often the leader of the free world calls us names.

Foon Rhee: 916-321-1913, @foonrhee