The election of Donald Trump is a shocking event for millions of Americans. And not only Americans. The man set to move into the White House has spent the past 18 months crossing lines of both basic decency and what we still like to call modern democracy. Beyond any fair debate on points of policy, Trump's candidacy amounted to a vitriolic, almost violent thirst for power and disregard for a half-century of progress in the way we talk to and about each other. He also seems utterly uninterested in doing the basic homework necessary for one of the most demanding and consequential jobs in the world.
While some Americans expressed their outrage at Trump's win by protesting on the streets, The New Yorker editor David Remnick articulated his own in words. "The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency is nothing less than a tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism. Trump's shocking victory, his ascension to the Presidency, is a sickening event in the history of the United States and liberal democracy."
And yet, even if one can imagine them sharing such a sentiment, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama had something very different to say out loud yesterday. In her concession speech, Clinton told her supporters that they must now root for Trump's success: "We owe him an open mind and a chance to lead." This is something much bigger than courtesy or protocol. Public officials, at their best, know the stakes of their work and weight of their words — and how they can influence both their own followers and their fiercest rivals. In part because it is unclear what Trump actually believes or wants to do with his power, his opponents in America must now decide whether to try to limit the harm of his presidency through coaxing or confrontation.
Contained in the famous quote "war is merely the continuation of politics by other means," is the understanding that the democratic battle over power and ideas is always at risk of suddenly turning very ugly. That applies both at home and abroad. Some non-Americans have lamented Trump's victory as the death of the U.S. model for progressive democracy and discourse, while others have noted bitterly that Washington may be about to get a taste of the kind of "strongman" leadership it has long imposed on other countries around the world.
Geneva-based Le Temps asked Rupert Colville of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights about Trump. "If we think that the decisions or practices of the next American administration violate the human rights of any groups or individuals, we will say so, just as we have done in the past, and as we do in the rest of the world." We might all agree the world is better off with such checks in place on American power. Now we must also hope the checks are in place on the power of any one American.