President Trump is a piece of crap. Former President Obama was a bastard. And Hillary Clinton, who everybody thought was going to be president, is utterly worthless too.
Oh, that is so refreshing!
For years, we were told that criticizing the occupant of the White House was "rank disrespect," as Jonathan Capehart wrote in the Washington Post. Opposition to the sitting president was very likely motivated by racism, Charles M. Blow mused in The New York Times. "Openly defying and brazenly disrespecting your president, while hoping that he fails, is not called patriotism… It is called treason," insisted one particularly moronic meme by Occupy Democrats.
But a few years of experience can have a wonderfully transformative effect on political culture. One election later, and Americans who once insisted that saying mean things about an elected official was unseemly and unforgivable have rediscovered the liberating potential of dissent.
Even before Donald Trump took office as the 45th president of the United States, California Governor Jerry Brown (D) vowed to pursue his own foreign policy on environmental issues, bypassing the White House. His fellow state officials want to extend that independent spirit to all sorts of policies. "We must be defiant whenever justice, fairness, and righteousness require," State Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) told his fellow legislators.
Likewise digging in its heels, Boulder, Colorado, declared itself a sanctuary city for illegal immigrants in defiance of federal law and the new president's border-warrior stance. Political leaders in roughly two dozen other cities, including Chicago, New York, and Seattle, have taken the same position in opposition to the new administration.
And, where once Hollywood celebrities issued a thoroughly creepy "pledge to serve Barack Obama" when he took office as president, eight additional years of seeing the duties of that office exercised led us to singer Madonna saying she's thought a lot about "blowing up the White House."
Madonna made her comments at a massive Women's March the day after Trump's inauguration during which hundreds of thousands of regular Americans promised to resist the new chief executive before he's even had a chance to start rivaling the damage inflicted by his predecessor.
It's all such a welcome change.
"The vision of the president as national guardian and spiritual redeemer is so ubiquitous it goes virtually unnoticed. Americans, left, right, and other, think of the 'commander in chief' as a superhero, responsible for swooping to the rescue when danger strikes," Gene Healy wrote in the pages of Reason in 2008. Healy, a vice president at the Cato Institute and the author of the Cult of the Presidency, published during the excesses of the George W. Bush years, warned that Americans place unrealistic expectations on the office of the presidency, and invest messianic faith in their preferred candidates, making it inevitable that White House residents will seize ever-greater power in response. "Relimiting the presidency depends on freeing ourselves from a mind-set one century in the making," he added.
Embracing the value of dissent and the right to tell presidents and the government they administer to go to Hell is a necessary part of breaking that mind-set. It clearly states that the dissenters expect not great things of the latest winner of the national popularity contest, but terrible things instead. Dissenters clearly don't want the targets of their defiance to exercise power, let alone to accumulate more.
To criticize government officials—and to embrace the right of others to do the same—is to step back from the cult.
Well, it is if you do it right.
That many of the new resisters who have rediscovered the joy in calling the president a bastard don't quite get it is obvious from their all-too-ubiquitous "still with her" signs and chants. An unfortunate proportion of the people eager to take the winner of the presidential election to task aren't at all disenchanted with the presidency—they're just sorry that the wrong messianic figure took office.
The same can be said of too many of the folks who are happy with the outcome of November's vote. If you're looking for evidence that the cult of the presidency lives on, you really can't beat the image of a room full of alt-right activists saluting their guy with cries of "hail Trump!" as happened at a gathering of the National Policy Institute in November.
Yeah, that makes my skin crawl too.
And if fans of the latest White House occupant get all hot and bothered over their fearless leader, some lawmakers from his party seem to have decided that this is the right moment to raise the stakes on public protest. Washington state Senator Doug Ericksen (R-Whatcom County), who was Trump's deputy campaign director for the state, wants to allow felony prosecution of protesters who disrupt economic activity. "We know that groups are planning to disrupt our economy by conflating the right to protest with illegal activities that harm the rights of others. We need this legislation to protect the rights of all citizens," he huffed in a press release.
GOP legislators in Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, and North Dakota have similarly introduced bills targeting protests. Yes, these bills specifically target illegal activity associated with protests rather than the speech itself, but they all come now, when their guy is taking office—not months or years ago when the old regime might have been the target.
So yes, it's cool again to call the president a bastard—for people, some of whom who thought the last chief executive was just dreamy and beyond reproach and are just pissed that their savior didn't win.
But too many other folks who sputtered under the last administration want to make life a little tougher for dissenters to their chosen one.
The president, now as always, is a bastard. But for many Americans, the cult of the bastard lives on.