"No President" is an unsigned editorial in N+1, and is, along with Ta-Nehisi Coates’s My President Was Black, the best postmortem on the events of November 8 yet published: it begins with the door-to-door canvas of voters in the runup to the election and the strange ideological contradictions on display on America’s doorsteps, reflects on the questions of gender and Clinton’s election outcomes, and moves on to a realistic, but firm and inspiring, call for resistance in the years to come.
The old rule of thumb for a republic is that all points of view and methods of politics can be endured except the one that denies rule of law in the republic. This alone can and should be treated as a threat, as if coming from outside. During the presidential campaign, Trump went on record, repeatedly, steadily, and memorably in front of us all — in the debates, in the press, in his campaign communications — to register that he would not obey the norms of the republic. He would not submit to the rule of law, and he would not act in the interests of the republic as a citizen. He would not submit to the result of the election, or a smooth succession, if he lost the vote. He did not acknowledge the independence of the judiciary. He had not paid his share of taxes to the state. He would not separate his policies from personal enrichment. In this sense, he was like many of his class. Trump served a salutary function as long as he was not elected, in showing the compromises and corruptions of American society in his own person. He could say, and show, that the “system was rigged” and corrupt because he had done his best to make it so.
“I alone can fix our nation because I have contributed at the highest level to its destruction and corruption” is not an admission that can command loyalty or legitimacy. It is a whistle-blowing admission that forfeits standing. Trump can only be understood, paradoxically, as an enemy of the republic, who, through a series of adventures and surprises, has been awarded its highest office. His insinuation during the campaign that critics and genuine whistle-blowers would be subject to retribution once he was elected makes this recognition urgent. His selection of the fascist Stephen Bannon as chief strategist further underscores his seriousness about these issues. This is what differentiates Trump, an illegitimate individual gaining the coercive powers of the chief executive. He is not an ordinary, merely “Republican” President.
The thing before our eyes, in other words, is the installation of an extralegal and extrajudicial personality into the presidency — an office that has been expanded, through Republican and Democratic administrations, decade after decade, to dangerous excesses of power. This includes the proliferation of executive orders that have the force of law. Executive orders make the President not merely someone presiding over a tripartite government but a premodern monarch or führer. But it is the more ordinary coercive powers of the executive that add urgency to the situation: The Department of Justice. The Attorney General. Federal prosecutors and the FBI. The Department of Homeland Security. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the TSA. The Department of the Treasury and the IRS. The Department of Defense and the military. Having witnessed the Republican Party fail to eject Trump as a candidate and nearly half of the voting citizenry elect him through the Electoral College, does the system itself have any capacity to restrain such an extralegal personality from reaching the inauguration?
No President [N+1]