Views expressed in opinion columns are the author's own.
These past months have been difficult to say the least. The president has eroded the legitimacy of important democratic institutions, empowered groups promoting bigotry, racism and anti-Semitism and even endangered America's national security by escalating tensions with North Korea.
It would seem this is the time for mass revolution pushing for change in the White House. And, in the short term, that might be the best option. We could reject President Trump's presidential authority and refuse to accept him as our leader. We could post #notmypresident on social media, or join anti-fascist groups who combat racism and try to promote Trump's impeachment, as Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin has done.
Yet, there is a huge long-term cost to every one of those decisions. Refusing to accept the legitimacy of the president means we contribute to the degradation of the presidency itself. We are privileged not to have experienced the fragility of democracy, but if we don't respect the office of a democratically elected leader — no matter how dangerous that leader is — we create dangerous precedent for the treatment of future leaders. We could create a system that essentially states it is tolerable to refuse to accept the outcome of an election if we feel the elected leader will not do an adequate job. What may begin as a fight against autocracy and fascism is a slippery slope to anarchy.
The rise of the violent extremes on the right and the left best exemplifies this possibility. Now, let me be very clear: There is zero moral equivalence between Nazis and Antifa (or between the violent right and left, for that matter). Nazi ideology promoted the systematic murders of 11 million people 80 years ago, and just recently, a peaceful protester was killed at an anti-racism rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. For our president to suggest they belong in the same conversation is shameful and sickening. Yet, that is not to say the right has a monopoly on violence. Some individuals on the left have engaged in politically motivated violence too. Only a few months ago, a leftist activist attempted to shoot a congressman and ended up killing someone else. If we use violence to promote our political ideology, we corrode the sovereignty of the state.
And if we attempt to impeach a president who has not committed high crimes or misdemeanors, we again erode the democratic institutions that give the office its power. We cannot turn impeachment into a political tool to circumvent democracy. When President Obama was inaugurated in 2009, many people, including the current president, attempted to undermine the legitimacy of the presidential office by claiming Obama was not born in the United States. While this was an absolute farce, the incident foreshadowed the legitimacy issue Trump would be facing right now. For the sake of democratic stability, we cannot do what he did and attempt to delegitimize the presidency.
However, we can and should participate in peaceful protests that promote tolerance and understanding, hold the president accountable for his actions and rhetoric and begin planning for the 2020 election, when we hopefully can remove this blemish on U.S. history while maintaining the integrity of the office.
Moshe Klein is a junior economics and government and politics major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.