Today TPM turns 16.
These are not at all the circumstances in which I expected to mark this day. A week ago I expected a profoundly different result. But here we are. And here we’ve been.
I wrote the first post for TPM in the early evening of November 13th, 2000. It was about the unfolding Florida recount and George Bush’s decision to hire Ted Olson as his top recount lawyer. Olson had just come off years as a key player on something called the ‘Arkansas Project’, pouring money into digging up dirt or anything that might pass as dirt on Bill Clinton in his home state. Since then Olson lost his wife on 9/11 and went on be one of the two lawyers who argued for the decision which eventually made marriage equality the law of the land. Things change. About twenty minutes later I wrote a second post. And about an hour after that I wrote a third one.
These two moments, 16 years apart, are thoroughly different and yet very much the same. That is what this site was born to. So we will pick up where we left off. We will also do so combining both optimism and realism, two postures to the world which I believe are always compatible. More than anything else we will resist the normalization of Trumpism.
Here’s what I mean by that. As I noted in this Friday post, there are numerous pressures on the establishment media to normalize whoever is currently in power. Those pressures may paradoxically be greater the more the person or group in power departs from historical and free government norms. We not normalize what is abnormal in our historical tradition.
We are seeing the rise of #NotMyPresident as an emblem of opposition and resistance to Trumpism. This is a rhetorical stance. And people have different ways of expressing their opposition. So I have no beef with anyone who chooses to express themselves in this way. For my part, we live in a republic. Donald Trump was elected President. Therefore he’s my President simply because this is the republic I am a part of and bound to, despite how much I oppose him and how much I regret this development.
But the President is not the state. The President is not the law. We have over two centuries of tradition of open and free government, very imperfect at first in all the ways we know about and improved over time, and still imperfect. Those traditions have been handed down more or less intact over more than two centuries. Donald Trump is merely a temporary and transient power in this long tradition. He is legitimate only as long as he operates within it. To my mind, what is important is that this is my republic. Trump is my President. But the first fact is infinitely more important than the second. Indeed, the latter is irrelevant outside the context of the former.
A republic is far, far stronger than any one leader. But it cannot be any stronger than the people who make it up. We will need to get back to what is normal as quickly as we can as a country. But we also need to remember and mark what is normal and acceptable as a reference point to return to, perhaps a reinvigorated normal. There’s no way of knowing how much these two things will come into conflict. But we don’t need to. Our republic and its traditions are our guide star regardless.
A day before or perhaps the day of the election I saw a tweet from a former TPM intern, maybe from almost a decade ago, explaining a conversation he had had with me where I explained the different between fairness and balance. I had no memory of the conversation but it’s a distinction I’ve discussed, tried to explain and share with numerous colleagues over the years. No journalism can be worth its name without basic fairness and fundamental honesty. Balance is the handmaiden of normalization and deception.
So this is our pledge. We will be fair and we will be focused. Our values, as they’ve always been but now with a renewed and more urgent focus, are the rule of law, open government and democracy. We will also try to have fun and a sense of humor while doing it.
To our readers, thank you. Thank you for staying with us for all these years whether that started in 2016 or 2000 or anywhere in between. Without you, in the most literal as well as figurative ways, we could not do any of this.