My greatest fear, when I ponder going to jail, is that my 53-year-old prostate wouldn’t be able to handle the long wait until I am booked. Before Election Day, it seemed a little crazy to imagine that I would ever be behind bars. Now it seems a little crazy that the country would be where we are. Like many others, I am weighing what I am willing and able to do in response.
Henry David Thoreau begins his 1849 essay On the duty of civil disobedience with a timely question: “This American government—what is it but a tradition, though a recent one, endeavoring to transmit itself unimpaired to posterity, but in each instant losing some of its integrity?” American government lost more than some of its integrity on November 8, when Donald Trump was elected to succeed Barack Obama as President of the United States.
Donald Trump is the most comprehensively unworthy president-elect in generations. His mere venial sins astonish: his grifting business practices, exemplified by the $25 million settlement against Trump University, his tabloid affairs, the crude personal insults he hurls at critics and political opponents, his disdain for the craft of policy making, exemplified by his failure to attend national-security briefings. I’m not even mentioning his relationship to Putin.
Since Election Day, we’ve finally seen serious media coverage of Trump’s basically insurmountable conflicts of interest that that arise from his efforts to combine being president with his worldwide business empire. That these hiding-in-plain-sight practicalities received so little attention before November 9 suggests that our media and political elite didn’t take fully seriously the possibility that Donald Trump would win. That’s one reason he actually did.
Yet, serious as they are, Trump’s personal improprieties and financial conflicts are not what lead me to ponder chaining myself to a courthouse door. Like no other president-elect in generations, he bluntly challenges bedrock norms of our pluralist democracy. That’s what Trump’s challenges to President Obama’s birth certificate and college transcripts were really about. That’s what Trump’s retweeting wildly wrong alt-right claims about the proportion of crimes committed by African Americans and his “textbook”-racist remarks about a Mexican-American judge were really about, too. Trump and his key advisers denigrate Muslims, African Americans, Latino immigrants, and others. Key appointees—Steve Bannon, Senator Jeff Sessions, and Gen. Michael Flynn—have track records of dubious statements and associations that would bar them from leading many hospitals or Fortune 500 firms.