Dear Mr. President-elect,
This is the first in a series of open letters that you’re not likely to read. The ultimate goal is simple: accountability. As you speak and act, these letters will try to set the factual record straight in our post-factual world that you now dominate. Your words and deeds will determine the scope and duration of this exercise.
The Responsibility of Attorneys and the Press
I didn’t vote for you, but this isn’t a partisan crusade. Lawyers across the political spectrum are concerned about what you might do as President. We listened with concern to your campaign rhetoric. Repeatedly, you professed disrespect for the rule of law. (Along the way, I wrote about your transgressions here, here, here, here, and here.)
Now we watch and wait for any sign of disquieting conduct matching the words that helped propel you into office. When you err, we will speak. You may say that such vigilance is un-American. It’s not. Holding elected officials accountable to the law and the truth is the essence of democracy.
You’ll start with functional control over two branches of government. Senate confirmation of your Supreme Court nominee will deliver the third. So it becomes the task of those outside your orbit to identify and spotlight your missteps. More than at any time in our nation’s history, attorneys and the press have a special responsibility to remain on high alert.
Open letters like this one will arrive whenever the circumstances require it. Two have already arisen: the false claim that you have a mandate and your early post-election tweets.
The Illusory Mandate
Contrary to the narrative that you and your supporters are pushing, Republicans do not have a mandate to pursue whatever the Trump agenda turns out to be. You benefitted from a disquieting confluence of events and circumstances. And even at that, you lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by the widest margin of any elected President in history.
Start with the FBI. As voters were casting more than 46 million early ballots, FBI Director James Comey’s profound misstep on October 28 compounded his July 5 press conference error in handling the Clinton email investigation. Stated simply, he pushed votes your way.
Four days later, the Bureau used a twitter account that had been dormant for more than a year to release documents relating to the Clinton Foundation. On November 2, Fox News’ Bret Baier aired a false report from FBI sources that there would likely be indictments involving the Clinton Foundation. Two days after that, Baier apologized for that “mistake” and retracted his story.
But as your campaign manager Kellyanne Conway acknowledged to MSNBC’s Brian Williams shortly after Baier’s retraction, “The damage has been done to Hillary Clinton.”
Responding to a post-election report that Clinton thought the FBI’s unprecedented actions had affected the election, Conway did a slick about-face on November 13: “I just can’t believe it’s always somebody else’s fault. Sometimes you just have to take a look in the mirror and reflect on what went wrong.”
The Russian Vote
Likewise, you alone benefitted from Russian hackers and Wikileaks. They put their thumbs on the Trump side of the election scale. The fact that the Russian parliament burst into applause when Vladimir Putin announced your victory should not please you. It should cause you and all American citizens grave concern.
About That Republican Congress
Some voters split their tickets. They were heeding the call of leading Republicans in Congress and elsewhere who shunned you. Outraged at your behavior, concerned about your lack of knowledge and intellectual depth, and fearful of your erratic temperament, they made the case that a Republican Senate was essential to check President Hillary Clinton. Unwittingly, they have now empowered you beyond their wildest fears.
From the standpoint of popular support, you begin your first term from a position of unprecedented weakness. Ironically, you entered politics with a frivolous “birther” claim that questioned the legitimacy of your predecessor’s right to the Oval Office. Yet real shadows hover over yours.
A second circumstance that already requires voices of accountability to speak involves your post-election tweets. Less than 48 hours after your subdued acceptance speech, you responded to nationwide street protests with a two-pronged attack against the dissenters and the media.
“Just had a very open and successful presidential election. Now professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting. Very unfair!”
No facts supported your claims. As always, your response to any hint of criticism was to find a scapegoat or a distraction. We’ll be watching for that tendency, too. When you fail to fulfill your most unrealistic campaign promises, the anger of those who voted for you will intensify. In Ohio, when the steel mills don’t fire up again in Youngstown and your border wall doesn’t solve the opioid epidemic in Columbus, will you follow your lifelong impulse to blame someone else?
Continuing Attacks on the Press
On Sunday morning, November 13, you renewed your pre-election attack on The New York Times:
“Wow, the @nytimes is losing thousands of subscribers because of their very poor and highly inaccurate coverage of the ‘Trump phenomena’.”
That wasn’t true, either. The Times reported a post-election surge in new subscriptions — four times the pre-election rate.
A few hours later, you went after the Times again: “The @nytimes states today that DJT believes “more countries should acquire nuclear weapons.” How dishonest are they. I never said this!”
But you did say it. When Mike Pence denied in his vice-presidential debate that you’d taken such a position, nonpartisan Politifact rated his statement as “Mostly false” and listed all of the instances that you’d said what the Times reported — the first of which was in March 2016 to reporters for The New York Times.
On April 3, 2016, you had this exchange with Fox News’ Chris Wallace:
Trump: “It’s not like, gee whiz, nobody has them. So, North Korea has nukes. Japan has a problem with that. I mean, they have a big problem with that. Maybe they would in fact be better off if they defend themselves from North Korea.”
Wallace: “With nukes?”
Trump: “Including with nukes, yes, including with nukes.”
Most people are too busy with life’s daily demands to scrutinize your torrent of sometimes conflicting words. But many of us will make the time necessary to stand guard against your demonstrated capacity to take advantage of the post-factual world in which we live. No President possesses a mandate to lie without getting caught.