Trump at Bat
In one very real sense, Donald Trump’s inauguration this week represents a success story. We had eight years of a black president who didn’t get assassinated. Some people might think that is morbid. And some people might think that’s a very low bar for success. Some might even give the Secret Service all of the credit for keeping Obama upright. But taking into consideration all of the scandals and security lapses they have had, I’m reluctant to give them too many kudos. Many of you didn’t have to live through all of the assassinations I have: the Kennedys, Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers, Anwar Sadat, Yitzhak Rabin, and Malcolm X just for starters. Then there were the attempted murders of George Wallace, Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan. The number of political leaders who have been the target of assassins’ bullets is depressingly long. The trauma from these assaults on democracy is never far from the center stage of my psyche. And it is no secret that there are people, including some Trump voters, who wanted to add Obama’s name to that list.
But they didn’t. And that’s good news to me. Political power in this country is taking place via the ballot box rather than the ammunition box as it should. Conservatives should be happy about this since Obama’s death would have put Biden in office, and there’s no way he loses Pennsylvania to Trump. Some on Trump’s side have made fun of pouting liberals with good reason. Trump won, and in spite of losing the popular vote and in spite of the dirty tricks perpetrated by a 400 pound Detroit hacker in his bathrobe, the Donald is our new president. But liberals are crying so many tears you’d think that Starbucks discontinued carrying soy milk. If this country can survive eight years of George W, then we should be able to handle the Orange One. Besides, empathy is one of the primary Liberal tenets. So now they know firsthand the feelings many Conservatives went through when Obama took office and then was reelected. Who can forget Karl Rove’s meltdown on national TV when Fox News experts called the 2012 election for Obama? Not much different from Rosie O’Donnell’s histrionics IMHO.
But Conservatives shouldn’t gloat too much at Liberal pain and newfound empathy. The Republican reaction to Obama could easily be described as holding one’s breath for eight years. In fact, I see little difference between Republicans and Democrats except that one side embraces the idea of big government while the other pretends to hate it while expanding its reach further and further into our lives. How is regulating who one sleeps with, how they identify themselves, or what medical procedures they choose creating a smaller government?
Besides being a history buff, I have been through enough presidential transitions to know that the people who sit in the Oval Office are always surprised by both the power and responsibility it entails. That combination has overwhelmed some men and spurred others to greatness. No one, not even Trump himself, knows how he will handle it. Every modern president has been dramatically changed by the office. Exhibit A is before and after pictures of all of our modern presidents. The changes are remarkable. Every one except Reagan (who was already the oldest elected president) aged considerably. And while the Donald thinks he knows what’s coming, he’s wrong.
I hope all of the naysayers (including me) are wrong. I hope Trump surprises us and becomes a great president. I hope he makes all of the right decisions to maintain and even improve “this shining city on a hill.” There is some precedent for this. Ronald Reagan was vilified by most establishment Republicans. He was dismissed by many as a light-weight B-movie actor. Although he doesn’t deserve the sainthood bestowed upon him by many Conservatives, he did restore our faith in ourselves as well as end the Cold War. These were no small feats.
My point is that a country that has elected men like Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and Calvin Coolidge doesn’t always recognize presidential timber when it’s still in the forest. Even great presidents like Abraham Lincoln were not treated as such by many of their peers. Lincoln was so disliked and mocked that he didn’t think he’d get reelected and gave orders to his military reflecting his pessimism about staying in office. Fortunately for the republic, military successes such as the capture of Vicksburg swung the election back to “Honest Abe.”
Let me be clear: I expect Trump to be an awful president. The scandals and potential ethical conflicts are already monumental for someone who hasn’t even held office yet, perhaps unprecedented in American history. His cabinet choices are mostly rich people who are on record as opposing the very agencies they are going to run. I realize this is on purpose and that it is part of the “draining the swamp” plan. I also know that many people are excited to see what happens when the Republicans finally get to implement their agenda across the country. But based on the utter failure of these same economic policies that have been implemented in Louisiana and Kansas, I expect a lot of bovine related material to soon be flying through the air. I also don’t see how getting rid of government oversight of ethics, the environment, or workplace safety is going to make us better in the long run. I don’t buy the argument that government must be strangled into a pre-Civil War version. Government has important roles to play in our daily lives. An honest discussion should be about what the proper roles of government are rather than on getting rid of as much of it as Republicans can achieve.
I hope I am wrong in every respect. I have been wrong about national policies and politicians before. For the sake of the country, I hope I am again. But that’s not how I’m going to bet.