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Ted Van Dyk
May 21, 2017 5:44 p.m. ET
jackass can kick down a barn,” said the legendary Speaker Sam Rayburn. “But it
takes a carpenter to build one.”
Democrats should reflect on that wisdom as
they consider the special counsel now appointed to investigate President
Trump’s alleged ties to Russia.
In the short term, the inquiry will probably hurt Mr. Trump and feed attempts
to drive him from office. But in the end the president’s attackers will pay a
The political and media hysteria surrounding
the Trump administration lies somewhere on the repulsiveness scale between the
Jacobin excesses of the French Revolution and the McCarthy era. Thus far the
public knows of no presidential action that would justify impeachment. Never
mind, the crowd cries, let us have the verdict now. We can do the trial later.
What about discussions between Trump campaign
advisers and Russian or other foreign leaders? Don’t they count as high crimes
and misdemeanors? No, such conversations take place all the time in national
What about the firing of FBI Director James
Comey ? Wasn’t that suspicious? No, Mr. Comey disregarded the Justice
Department chain of command and the normal proprieties of his office. He made
public statements about ongoing investigations. He allowed it to leak that the
president had suggested leniency for Mike Flynn, the former White House adviser
now under investigation. A presidential suggestion of that nature would be
neither illegal nor unprecedented
What about Mr. Trump’s disclosure of
classified information during a meeting with Russian leaders? It’s a tempest in
a teapot. The president has the authority to classify or declassify information
as he wishes. I have witnessed other presidents doing it.
What about Mr. Trump’s executive order
declaring a short-term pause on immigration from countries with active
terrorist movements? It may have been poorly handled, but other presidents have
done similar things
What about all Mr. Trump’s flip-flopping?
Shouldn’t a president be trustworthy and reliable? Yes, but when Mr. Trump has
reversed his campaign pledges it has been mostly for the good.
If Mr. Trump were a conventional president,
these missteps would be shrugged off as growing pains or considered worthy of
only mild reproof. President Trump, it is true, lacks the knowledge, experience
and temperament for the office. His crude narcissism is grating. He has
carelessly contributed to his problems with heedless public statements. He
nonetheless was duly elected and should be given the leeway that new presidents
are traditionally afforded.
Critics, moreover, misread the temper of the
American people. Most voters don’t much like Mr. Trump. But they like chaos
I spoke recently to a Democratic group
consisting mainly of Bernie Sanders supporters. Many were searching for a
constructive response to the Trump presidency. They were people, as the saying
goes, seeking to light a candle rather than curse the darkness.
I suggested that they concentrate on
developing alternatives to Mr. Trump’s proposals—on health care, taxes, the
budget. “You mean we should help Trump?” someone asked. “No,” I answered, “you
should help your country.” I was surprised by the outburst of applause that
Democrats, in their all-out opposition to Mr.
Trump, are missing real opportunities to influence policy. The tax-reform
debate is a prime example. If Democrats were shrewd, they would try to
negotiate a grand compromise, in which loopholes are scrubbed from the code and
Social Security and Medicare put on sounder long-term footing. But to get
there, purposeful polarization must give way to constructive engagement.
Trump haters disregard an old rule of
politics and history: In the end, voters always choose order over disorder.
Kicking Mr. Trump to the curb wouldn’t return the country to the pre-Trump
status quo. It would likely bring forth new law-and-order leadership more
disciplined and conservative than Mr. Trump’s.
Mr. Van Dyk was active for more than 40
years in Democratic administrations and campaigns, including as Vice President
Humphrey’s assistant in the White House.