Why is Donald Trump president of the United States?
In a Minneapolis luncheon speech Tuesday, Michael Steele, a one-time chair of the Republican National Committee who still calls himself a Republican but has little praise for the current incumbent, said, as a refrain with variations: “We are where we are because this is where we want to be.”
Personally, I disagree. We are where we are because, of the pitiful 56 percent of eligible voters who participated in the 2016 presidential election, 46 percent voted for Donald Trump, and the antiquated Electoral College system did the rest. More of us are unhappy about that than happy (judging by the president’s approval ratings). I would say that a great many of us are not where we want to be. But, of course, this is loser logic, or perhaps a desire to exclude myself from the “we” who want to be where we are, president-wise.
But I get Steele’s point: Under our jury-rigged system for choosing a president, Trump won the job, perhaps with some illicit foreign help. 62.98 million U.S. citizens voted for him and, at the moment, it seems likely that he will serve out at least one four-year term.
Steele, by the way, predicts that Trump will probably win a second term. Why? Steele gave a few stabs at offering a “because.”
Because Trump is a “master manipulator.” Because Trump “is able to have this conversation with a group that felt forgotten.” Because the news media has lost its role in deciding its own agenda, which means that you can have a political show all set up to discuss one thing, and, as Steele said, “Trump will issue a tweet that completely takes over the agenda.”
Because, as Steele also put it in a paraphrase of his where-we-want-to-be argument, “the space we’re in is one of our own choosing and making,” although he also called it a “dangerous space for our country to be in.”
“What has happened,“ Steele said, “only happens if we cede over, to that person or people, power that they should not have.”
If you’re confused, so was I. But I stayed to the end of the Q and A, as Steele addressed the 29th annual Corporate Counsel Symposium put on by the Minneapolis-based Dorsey law firm.
So I’ll just try to elucidate my best understanding of why Steele argues that the place where we are must be where we want to be. Here’s an example, drawn from Steele’s remarks.
“This morning, many of us woke up to a tweet – how sad is that – of the president talking about ending birthright citizenship.” The 14th Amendment says pretty clearly that anyone born here is a U.S. citizen. Trump claims he can change that, without a constitutional amendment, or even the support of Congress, but by executive order, with no power other than his own.
Me, I would say executive power doesn’t extend to unilaterally changing the Constitution. But, if Trump goes through with such an executive order, someone will have to stop him. Or, if no one stops him, he will get away with it. And if we, the whole collective “we” let him get away with it, that will be evidence that, in some messed up collective sense: “We are where we are because this is where we want to be.”
And, on the other hand, if, collectively, we stand up and say “this is a line that’s too far” for Trump to stretch executive power, and say it in a way that causes the other branches of the government to act on that message, that will be evidence that where Trump tried to take us is a place that we are not willing to be taken, Steele said.
Donald Trump (Steele reminded us) was caught on tape saying that if you are sufficiently rich and famous, you are allowed to grab women by the pussy. At the time, many of those who claim to know such things said that that would finish him politically. But, Steele said, Trump carried the “white, female, educated vote” with 53 percent, over the first woman major party nominee ever.
“We have to understand what that means,” Steele said. “Politics abhors a vacuum. When there’s a vacuum, someone or something will fill it. Donald Trump filled the vacuum.”
Steele, by the way, now appears as a regular commenter, from a conservative perspective, on MSNBC. In addition to his RNC gig, he served as lieutenant governor of Maryland, the first African-American to win statewide office in that state. He was the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate from Maryland in 2006, but lost to Democrat Ben Cardin.