Andy Schmookler: Tell us they don’t speak for you, Mr. President-elect

Andy Schmookler

A whole lot of Americans would agree that something of great importance happened in the election last week, with Donald Trump’s winning the presidency. Obviously, many Americans think it was a wonderful thing. Many others see Trump’s rise to power as creating the most dangerous moment in America in our lifetimes.

I am one of the latter. But now that it’s decided that Trump will be our next president, I not only want to be wrong but I pray I’m wrong and that my fears prove unfounded.

It will likely not take long to discover just what spirit and values Trump’s presidency will express. Unfortunately, some worrisome signs have already arisen.

For example, there has been a wave of hate crimes – hundreds of attacks of various kinds against people from all types of communities – black, Latino, Muslim, Jewish, Asian, women. In many cases, the people who committed such assaults have explicitly indicated that they saw their actions as expressing the spirit of our new president.

Most people who voted for Trump – or at least so I hope – did not mean to support this kind of hate and violence. And so I hope that those Trump supporters will join me and call upon our president elect to come forward and condemn this wave of attacks.

“These people believe they are expressing what you stand for, Mr. Trump. Tell us whether or not they are right.”

Everyone should know how those people got the idea that they were channeling Trump when they perpetrated their acts of bigotry. But now is the time, at the beginning of his being our president-elect, for Mr. Trump to make clear that this is not the spirit he wants his presidency to express.

Meanwhile, in cities all over the nation, many thousands of people have spontaneously come out into the streets to demonstrate – overall, peacefully – their strong feelings against the election of Donald Trump as president.

In response to those protests, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke has questioned the right of these protesters to lodge their opposition to the new president. Saying that “there is no legitimate reason to protest the will of the people,” Clarke declared that these protest marches “must be quelled.”

Clarke is connected enough to Trump that he was picked as a speaker at the Republican National Convention that nominated Trump, and Clarke has been mentioned as a possible head of Homeland Security. So when such a man expresses the desire to violate Americans’ constitutional rights, it raises alarms.

The right to peacefully assemble is granted to everyone by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Clarke’s notion that people have such rights only if the governing power has judged their cause “legitimate” constitutes an attack on our basic American freedoms.

Most of the conservatives I know are dedicated to defend and protect the Constitution of the United States. So I believe that most of the conservatives who supported Trump would not want their president to trample on our basic constitutional liberties, as Mr. Clarke seems ready to do.

So I hope those Trump supporters would join me in calling upon our newly chosen president to speak out in the clearest and strongest terms and tell us that Mr. Clarke’s words do not represent his attitudes toward our constitutionally protected rights, and that his presidency will show – on the contrary – a consistent respect for Americans’ right to express their beliefs, including and especially the right to dissent.

This is an important time. The meaning and nature of a new presidency are now being clarified. The nation is deeply divided, and potentially poised for a time of bitterness and conflict.

Will our new president work to pit group against group, with vulnerable people being attacked and persecuted? Or will he work to bring Americans together to move the nation forward? Will the American democracy be rejuvenated, as many who supported Trump evidently hoped for? Or will the basic democratic values on which our nation was founded be assaulted by an autocratic power?

If you care about those basic values, I hope you who supported Mr. Trump will join me in calling on him to reassure us that those who lately have attacked our American values and freedoms in his name do not express the kind of presidency he intends to provide to the nation.

Tens of millions of your fellow citizens see serious reasons for concern, and would like to be reassured.

Andy Schmookler — who was the Democratic nominee for Congress in Virginia’s 6th District in 2012 — is the author most recently of What we’re up against: The Destructive Force at Work in Our World – and How We Can Defeat It.”