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What Comes Next?

Dear Americans,

I’ve got a small query for you:

What comes next? You’ve been freed. Do you know how hard it is to lead? You’re on your own. Awesome. Wow. Do you have a clue what happens now?

With these lines, in the show Hamilton, King George III asks America after its successful fight for independence: Are you prepared for this new responsibility? While he had selfish reasons for resenting the revolution as a deep attack on his monarchical powers, the character has a point: How well are folks prepared for a radical political change that, in the moment, may feel so satisfying? I ask the same thing of modern day Americans.

Nineteen months ago, you embarked on an experiment of electing a divisive, unqualified, unprepared, racist, sexist, narcissistic individual to be president, on the theory that he would shake up the system and fight for the interests of the common (white) men and women of the U.S.

This strategy has worked for those of you who believe in a presidency which, despite limited policy successes, has insulted opponents and allies, increased internal division and racism, fought a battle against competent governance, and instilled deep fears in immigrant communities.

You may be one of the roughly 60 million voters happy that your president has effectively seized unprecedented media attention for himself, radically altered the notion of what public officials can get away with, imposed a Heritage Foundation inspired agenda in the bureaucracy, and molded an entire political party in his own image. Many of you Republican voters or politicians are reveling in this moment, as a vindication of your conservative politics and an assault on the previous president.

Yet your short-term satisfaction and partisan gain comes at a deeper cost—an erosion of the norms and practices that have sustained our constitutional democracy for 229 years. It may seem like you are winning, but I have to ask you: What comes next? I can’t predict the future, but historical perspective allows me to wonder about it. Here are some questions that seem pertinent to me:

  • During the next two (or eight) years of the current administration, will Congress continue to take a back seat to the presidency, in rebuke to the Article One of the Constitution, which laid out legislative powers first? Or will it assert its constitutional powers to make policy and effectively check a rogue president? If it stays relatively dormant, what will this mean for the separation of powers going forward?

  • The current president has done horrific things against immigrant communities, but will it get worse? Might he take further actions, by increasing deportations or, worse, perhaps creating internment camps? He has gotten away with a lot so far; these terrible actions might be just a few steps away.

  • The current president is, fortunately, a political neophyte. He has no sense of tactics, no broad strategy, and, despite his claims, is a really bad negotiator. But what if, after the current president has laid the ground work, another president comes along who is actually an effective politician, as well as a demagogue and populist? What will our democracy look like then?

  • The current president has joyfully stoked anger--against athletes and political opponents. He has torn away at the notion of a united country (e pluribus unum) and has tacitly and overtly supported racism and bias. Will hostility continue and become a regular feature of our politics? Will racists continue to feel empowered in their rhetoric and actions? If so, is there any hope for cross-party compromise and policy making?

  • The administration has deliberately installed cabinet secretaries who are hostile to or clueless about their departmental missions. Experienced public servants have left public service as a result. Can the administrative bureaucracy be effectively rebuilt after all this?

  • For the last seventy years, the world has looked to America for leadership. However, this president has insulted democratic allies such as Canada, the United Kingdom, Mexico, and Germany, while populists are ascendant in places such as Hungary, Poland, Turkey, Venezuela, the Philippines, Austria, Slovenia, and of course Russia. Can relations with our allies be repaired? Can we count on democratic countries supporting us the next time we are in a serious international conflict? Will we continue to support authoritarian regimes, or will we again assert our democratic leadership?

Republican, Democrat or Independent—if you care about the constitutional framework of our country, you can make a difference in what comes next.

Republicans: If you’re not already under the spell of the current president, you have a moral obligation to vote for Democrats in the upcoming elections. I realize this is difficult, but putting your policy differences aside, don’t you believe our constitutional government should live on into the future?

Democrats: Forget the supposed division between the Bernie and Hillary wings of the party. You agree on 99% of the issues. You need to vote for whichever candidate is nominated in your congressional district. If you live in a non-competitive district, volunteer your efforts to help flip a district somewhere else.

Independents: You have three choices in this year’s elections—vote Democrat, vote Republican, or sit it out. Only by voting Democrat can you help reverse the unconstitutional trajectory of the current administration.

The current president, his team, and his enablers have seriously threatened our democracy. As focused as we are in the news of the present, who knows whether it could get worse? Only we—American citizens and voters—have the power to stop it.

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