“Respect the Presidency”

So Donald Trump is suddenly demanding respect for the presidency. Please.

“Conservatives” shit that bed a long time ago. It is ridiculous for them to complain about it now.

This dynamic has been at play since the 1960s at least. That is the decade our good, modern “conservatives” like to blame for nearly every ill in our society these days. They much prefer the 1950s, when the darkies, women, and queers all knew their places and stayed in them. The sixties, of course, are famous as the decade when liberalism, as we have defined it since World War II, hit its peak, with major legislation to prohibit the worst forms of racial discrimination and creating new social welfare programs.

The huge fly in the ointment was that the president who bent his unmatched political skills to achieving these liberal victories, Lyndon Johnson, yet fell prey to absurd anti-communist hysteria from “conservatives” and bought the ridiculous notion that the United States had good reason to worry about communism in a small country in Southeast Asia, Vietnam. The Vietnam War, and protests against it in the United States, would end up being at once the greatest triumph, and the demise, of the post World War II liberal order. Johnson, after winning by a landslide in 1964, would then choose not to run again in the face of enormous criticism from opponents of the Vietnam War in 1968.

This series of events, the years just before and just after 1968, would prove to be critical in terms of respect for the presidency. The incumbent who seemed by far the most promising in a long time to most people turned out to be a disaster at the end, and he inadvertently ushered in his successor, Richard Nixon, who looked very promising to a lot of people at the start, but turned out to be an even bigger disaster.

Except that it was still an enormously powerful position, it is almost hard to understand why anyone would want to be president in 1976, the office stood so badly tainted by the first person to occupy it in the name of the New Right, that band of vocal “conservatives” who sprang up out of a noxious combination of paranoid anti-communism and white backlash against African American civil rights. Nixon set up the basic dynamic, and created the basic tactic, that “conservative” presidents would use consistently through Trump: sucker lots of ordinary white people to vote for them by claiming that the federal government was a bad institution the only purpose for which was to take their money and give it to those lazy black people. Thus did Republicans manage to win repeatedly on a platform of tax cuts, tax cuts, and more tax cuts, along with more or less explicit opposition to any form of civil rights law or enforcement.

A Republican, during the tenure of our first African American president, coined the term, “food stamp president.” Other Republicans mostly remained silent as their number repeated the vicious calumny that that first African American president was not born in the United States and thus was not eligible to the office.

And now you demand that we respect the office? We already knew that you were entirely devoid of any shame. No need to keep proving the point.

So, in 2018, “conservatives” would seem to have achieved their greatest victories. They have a president who won election on an explicitly racist platform, who then signed their fantasy tax cut, but continues to spend money like the spendthrift that he is, and a distinctly “conservative” state has managed to get the Republican Supreme Court to strike down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, a huge liberal achievement of the bad sixties, allowing “conservatives” throughout the former Confederacy, where most African Americans still live, to pursue discriminatory voter suppression tactics with abandon. “Conservative” heaven.

The big problem here, as the 2018 election confirmed after the 2016 indicated, “conservative” wishful thinking to the contrary notwithstanding, is that only a small percentage of the U.S. population much shares the values and policy preferences of “conservatives.” Republicans, the notionally “conservative” Party, have enjoyed political success in the early twenty-first century only by relying on cheating and related dirty tricks that always had limited shelf life, and now the expiration date has passed.

The enormous gains for Democrats in House seats indicates that most voters in the United States are thoroughly disgusted with the thoroughly “conservative” president Donald Trump and his thoroughly disgusting politics and policy — if one can ascribe any policy to Trump at all.

The presidency is in some important sense an inherently conservative institution. It is a concession to conservatism in the otherwise thoroughly liberal United States Constitution. It is as close as we come to a monarch, the rejection of which was the original reason to create a separate nation that would become the United States of America.

The people of the United States tend toward a deep seated suspicion of their government, so the absurdly anti-government blandishments of modern “conservatives” tend to find a sympathetic ear. But they then trip over themselves, proving over and over that their sophomoric libertarianism is really just a cheap excuse for letting grown white men act like drunken frat boys and leaving the rest of the country disgusted.

Trump is the loudest, most drunken frat boy at the party, so for him now to stand up on his hind legs and bleat about how we need to respect the presidency is an exercise in embarrassing stupidity, even by the embarrassingly stupid standards of the Trump administration.

There is nothing respectable about him, or about the office so long as he occupies it.

Written by

Uppity gay, Buddhist, author, historian.

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