October 24, 2017

Politickin’ me off: ‘Loyalty Day’ is not about loyalty

You may not have observed May 1 with a pledge of allegiance, but it was in fact one of America’s creepiest national holidays – Loyalty Day, as declared by President Donald Trump.

Loyalty Day has a resonance that extends beyond the spirit in which Trump, probably simply embittered about the many criticisms he’s faced over his first 100 days in office, probably intended it. The holiday dates back to the days of the Red Scare. It was intended to snub the traditional workers’ holiday of May Day, generally celebrated by unions and socialists. The purpose of Loyalty Day is to remind you that instead of advocating for a safer workplace and higher minimum wage, they should become unthinkingly loyal worker drones, lest they fall pray to the Soviet Union’s influence.

In Trump’s hands, Loyalty Day obviously can’t signify allegiance to the American state, especially not loyalty to the U.S. over Russia. That’s something he can’t make much of a claim to. One would think Trump wants to draw attention away from historical conflicts between the U.S. and Russia, but he doesn’t seem to be that self-aware.

Even beyond that, the celebration of Loyalty Day seems particularly silly this year. Trump’s made many pleas for loyalty from the American public and the American press. It’s something that the country has not rewarded him with; his approval ratings are at a historic low for someone so early in their presidential term.

When Trump supporters can muster a coherent argument about why the public owes him loyalty, they’ll say he’s earned it by winning the election. He’s the president, they’ll say, so he deserves the respect of the office and the benefit of the doubt. People are supposed to wait another four years, the argument runs, before they can say they want Trump out of office. We’re supposed to stay quiet and let the chips fall where they may until our appointed hour to participate in the democratic process, because of loyalty.

That’s patently ridiculous, and I think one of the great things about the Trump era is that we no longer have to pretend it isn’t. No one has earned your loyalty or your respect by being elected president. That’s particularly true this year, because Trump lost the popular vote and in a better-conceived system, would not be president. But it’s true every year, for every president.

We have to stop treating politicians as better than us – that applies to both sides of the political spectrum. Recently, former President Obama gave a speech to a Wall Street firm for $400,000, a fairly blatant betrayal of his legacy and political principles. While some Democrats have criticized him, many others have leapt to his defense, saying he has the right as an ex-president to make money. It’s strikingly similar to conservative defenses of Trump.

Trump works for us, and he agreed to that by taking the oath of office. Obama worked for us, too, and in a way he still does. Ex-presidents have a responsibility not to endanger the reputation of their party, and that’s what Obama has done.

Democrats should feel free to criticize him for that, and by the same token Republicans should be able to criticize Trump. If we are going to start electing presidents who will truly work in the public interest, we have to stop delivering unthinking reverence to power.

Hopefully, Trump will be our last president to celebrate Loyalty Day. Instead, we should bring back a little more of the spirit of May Day, and remind ourselves that true power lies not with an individual, but with a united front.

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