Never having held a government post, Donald J. Trump’s presidential bid struck many as breathtakingly improbable. It turned out that he had been thinking about running for years, however, and had some impressive skills to offer. And despite many challenges, he succeeded in winning.
Mr. Trump clearly has much to learn, and we disagree with some of his policy ideas. Indications are that he will face stiff political opposition from the start, forget the “honeymoon” period newly elected presidents often enjoy. But if he can make good on a few of his “make America great again” promises, things may improve later.
No predictions as to the outcome, but we think the 45th president will give this challenge everything he’s got. It will be interesting to see what happens.
I. Presidential aspirations – While appearing on the Oprah Winfrey Show to promote his new book titled “The Art of the Deal,” a 41-year-old real estate developer and entrepreneur expressed some thoughts about how the United States was being “ripped off” by military allies who weren’t paying their fair share and foreign trading partners. Oprah said these comments sounded like “presidential talk,” and asked Donald Trump whether he might be a candidate at some point.
Probably not, said Trump, as he liked what he was doing and felt no inclination to seek the office. He wouldn’t rule the idea out totally, however, if the country needed him. Video (3:07), youtube.com, 1988.
Ten years later, amidst more buzz about a presidential run, Christopher Buckley wrote a tongue-in-cheek version of the inaugural address Trump might be expected to deliver if elected. Very funny, be sure to read it! The Donald goes to Washington, Christopher Buckley, Wall Street Journal, 10/21/99.
Trump nearly threw his hat in the ring in 2012, but ultimately decided to endorse Mitt Romney. Whoever came up with the idea, a video was made that purported to show President Obama being “fired” during a visit to Trump Tower. The Republican National Convention was shortened by a day due to a hurricane, and the video was put on the shelf. It didn’t become public until Breitbart obtained it months after the 2012 election.“Apprentice” parodyof Trump firing Obama, youtube.com. Given this background and Romney’s loss in 2012, was it truly surprising that Trump decided to run for president in 2016 and had some compelling issues in mind to talk about? The answer, we would submit, is clearly “no.”
II. Candidate Trump – Prior entries have commented extensively on the 2015-2016 presidential race; here are some highlights.
Trump faced a talented field of Republican candidates, most of them far more experienced than he in the political/government realm. Jeb Bush – Ted Cruz – Mike Huckabee - John Kasich – Marco Rubio – Scott Walker – etc. The businessman’s chances were heavily discounted by most observers. His lack of experience and verbal gaffes would do him in eventually, they said, and some other candidate would take the lead as the field narrowed. But this didn’t happen, and Trump won enough delegates in state primaries to clinch the nomination before the Republican National Convention.
Meanwhile, the media and Democrats seemed to be attacking Trump’s rivals while taking it easy on him. Why? One theory offered was that Trump could be easily beaten by presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the general election, so his nomination would advance her cause
Once the two frontrunners had been nominated by their respective parties, the onslaught against Trump began in earnest. He made several unforced errors and Clinton gained a seemingly insurmountable lead in the polls. Although the race tightened towards the end of October, most observers continued to see Clinton as the likely winner. When the election results rolled in from around the country on the night of November 8, Trump’s clear-cut (albeit narrow) victory came as a genuine shock.
Here’s one observer’s explanation of what happened, basically a case of ordinary Americans rebelling because they had been ignored and/or patronized. You are being lied to, Daniel Greenfield, freedomoutpost.com, 11/19/16.
III. Post-election pushback – A series of attacks on the legitimacy of the election ensued, mostly of the “throw mud on the wall and see if it sticks” variety.
#Anti-Trumpists organized demonstrations around the country for a week or so after the election, some peaceful and others not. Clearly the protestors hated Trump, but they didn’t seem to have any plausible demands for redress.
More demonstrations were planned as Inauguration Day neared, ostensibly for the purpose of disrupting or diminishing Trump’s ascension to the presidency. Record protest crowds expect to greet Donald Trump at his inauguration, Valerie Richardson, Washington Times, 1/17/17. Democrats, left-wing activists and people who just don’t like Mr. Trump are planning to descend on Friday’s inauguration ceremony and related events by the thousands in an effort to start the 45th president’s term off on the wrong foot. The magnitude of the protests is expected to blow past the record set at the 1973 inauguration of President Richard Nixon, when more than 25,000 activists marched and dozens were arrested.
On January 20, such activity went largely unnoticed. And to the extent there was some violence, it took place well away from the Inauguration festivities and was effectively countered. Some of those involved with the violent protests were “believed to be affiliated with an anarchist group.” DC police arrest 217 protestors, Anna Giaritelli, Washington Examiner, 1/20/17.
To be complete (although it means getting ahead of our story), there was also a wave of demonstrations on January 21 in DC and other cities around the country. Hundreds of thousands stream into DC for Women’s March, Ryan Lovelace, Washington Examiner, 1/21/17.
These demonstrations were better organized than the protests on Inauguration Day and had more impact. But once again there wasn’t a clear-cut call for action, and a cacophony of causes were represented. Women’s March sports slew of liberal talking points, Mairead McArdle, Washington Examiner, 1/21/17.
If the goal was to influence the trajectory of the Trump administration, it probably wasn’t achieved. See, e.g., White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway dismisses Women’s March (on ABC’s This Week): “I frankly don’t see the point,” Bradford Richardson, Washington Times, 1/22/17.
[You] have folks here being on a diatribe where I think they could have requested a dialogue. Nobody called me and said, “Hey, could we have a dialogue?” *** I just thought they missed an opportunity to be about solutions and to really fight for those millions of women whose kids are trapped in failing schools, who don’t have access to health care, who don’t have access to an economic affordable life.
#Recounts were demanded in three rust belt states won by Trump (MI, PA and WI) based on breezy claims of possible electoral irregularities. This effort was spearheaded by Jill Stein of the Green Party, but the Clinton campaign was willing to participate (despite her concession in the early morning hours of November 9) Only the recount in Wisconsin was completed, modestly enhancing Trump’s margin of victory.
#GOP electors in the Electoral College were pressured not to vote for Trump on various grounds, e.g., his supposed unfitness to be president and the fact that Clinton had won the national popular vote (by nearly 3 million votes). The results of the voting were not materially affected.
#Much angst was expressed about James Comey’s late-campaign announcement that the FBI investigation of Clinton’s e-mails had been reopened (several days later Comey announced that the investigation had been closed again). A Department of Justice IG investigation of this matter is pending.
#WikiLeaks’ posting of hacked documents from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign was cited as having potentially cost Clinton votes, and US intelligence agencies attributed the hacking to Russian state actors. Although this activity took place well before the election, the administration had previously done nothing about it (at least publicly).
In December, there was a series of announcements about Russian cybersecurity activity and follow-up, allegedly intended to encourage Americans to vote for Trump vs. Clinton. The president imposed sanctions on Russia, including the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats, and ordered an investigation and report to Congress on the matter before he left office.
A preliminary version of the report was released, which critics found lacking in various respects. A further report was reportedly due by January 20, but to our knowledge never surfaced. FBI, DHS release report on Russian hacking, Katie Bo Williams, thehill.com, 12/29/16.
The 13-page report provides technical details regarding tools and infrastructure used by Russian civilian and military intelligence services to “compromise and exploit networks and endpoints associated with the U.S. election, as well as a range of U.S. Government, political, and private sector entities.” *** But security experts say that the document provides little in the way of forensic "proof" to confirm the government's attribution. Private security firms — like CrowdStrike, who investigated the DNC breach — went much further, they say.
#Representative John Lewis (D-GA) made a public statement about his plans not to attend the inauguration because he didn’t consider Trump a legitimate president – the Russian hacking was cited. And Trump fired back at the civil rights icon instead of letting the matter go. Why national unity is likely to elude us, Jonah Goldberg, stream.org, 1/17/17.
[Trump] attacked Lewis, saying the congressman “should finally focus on the burning and crime infested inner-cities of the U.S.” instead of “falsely complaining about the election results.” Predictably, Democrats rallied behind Lewis, who’s basically the party’s living saint, and they’re already fundraising off the spectacle.
In short order, nearly 1/3 of the Democratic caucus in the House of Representatives announced that they too would boycott the inauguration. Full list of Democrats who won’t attend Trump’s inauguration, patriottribune.com, 1/17/17.
#Polling results were reported that showed Trump taking office with the lowest favorability ratings in recent memory – a finding arguably exaggerated by oversampling Democrats. How CNN & ABC are using fake polls to tank Trump’s popularity, libertyheadlines.com, 1/17/17. Throughout, the post-election media coverage was overwhelmingly unfavorable to the president-elect. And the latter continued posting frequent “tweets” on Twitter to bypass the “dishonest media” and communicate his thoughts directly to his supporters.
To some extent, negative coverage may be attributed to forthright reporting of concerns about Trump’s policies and actions. But there has also been an element of political payback in play, as well as concerns on the part of some media representatives that steps will be taken to lessen their access and influence.
Following the president’s refusal to take a question from a CNN reporter at his recent press conference and the airing of a proposal to move work space for the White House press corps from the West Wing (adjacent to the press briefing room) to some satellite location, for example, there were bitter recriminations and threats of retaliatory measures. An open letter to Trump from the US press corps, Kyle Pope, Columbia Journalism Review, 1/17/17.
Reports over the last few days that your press secretary is considering pulling news media offices out of the White House are the latest in a pattern of behavior that has persisted throughout the campaign: You’ve banned news organizations from covering you. You’ve taken to Twitter to taunt and threaten individual reporters and encouraged your supporters to do the same. You’ve advocated for looser libel laws and threatened numerous lawsuits of your own, none of which has materialized. You’ve avoided the press when you could and flouted the norms of pool reporting and regular press conferences. You’ve ridiculed a reporter who wrote something you didn’t like because he has a disability.
As for examples of over the top attacks on the incoming president, it would be hard to top a front-page story about Trump and Dr. Martin Luther King that was published in Delaware a week ago. Four irate letters from readers followed, which in our view were amply justified. News Journal plays up Donald Trump’s alleged insensitivity on racial issues, Adam Duvernay, 1/16/17.
IV. Call for action – Consider the situation when Barack Obama took the oath of office on January 20, 2009. Challenges were looming, notably a major recession, but there were no challenges to the legitimacy of the election, no protests to speak of, and the incoming president had a 79% favorability rating.
The rhetoric in Obama’s inaugural address was lofty, the sentiments commendable, and yet it wasn’t very clear what he was urging Americans to do – see the example below. Perhaps the government was going to take care of everything and ordinary people wouldn’t have to concern themselves. Let’s hear it for “responsibility,” 1/26/09.
The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works, whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, [health]care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end.
Of course the government works, after a fashion. Here is the real question: does it work better than private enterprise in creating meaningful jobs, providing affordable healthcare (without rationing, which is never mentioned), saving for retirement (Social Security provides no savings, only promises), etc.? *** As for programs ending, we will believe it when we see it. Remember Ronald Reagan’s observation: "A government bureau is the closest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth." [8 years later, we can’t think of a single significant government program that was terminated.]
The incoming president on January 20, 2017, would be facing his share of problems too (hardly the vastly improved situation his predecessor had boasted of leaving behind), including an anemic economic recovery, a much-worsened fiscal situation, and potentially deadly international challenges from Russia, China, North Korea, etc. Not to mention multiple challenges to the legitimacy of his election, unfriendly media coverage, and a low favorability rating.
There had been much speculation about how Trump might seek to move things to a better track by delivering a message of national unity, but his actual message was brief (16 minutes speaking time) and blunt. Inaugural address, transcript, 1/20/17.
The new president began by acknowledging the presence on the dais of four previous presidents (Carter, Clinton, Bush 43, and Obama) and thanking his immediate predecessor for facilitating the transition process. Then he outlined an agenda for the real job, which would be to transfer power back to the American people.
•For too long, Washington had flourished and politicians had prospered while the people bore the cost and didn’t share in the rewards. That was going to change right here and now.
• Great schools – safe neighborhoods – good jobs – infrastructure – world class military – America first – unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism.
•No more empty talk, it’s time to get to work. Together, we will make it happen.
Some people on the dais and other members of the ruling class probably felt like they had been targeted. One would not expect them to participate enthusiastically in pursuing this agenda.
And there will be many critics in the media. See, e.g., Donald Trump’s unprecedented, divisive speech, David Von Drehe, time.com, 1/20/17.
Trump’s rallying cry was resentment: resentment of foreign governments and industries, resentment of elected leaders and faceless elites, resentment of the empty factories and haunted cities that define the American landscape as rendered by its new leader. “American carnage” is how he tallied it all up, in a phrase as dark as any spoken by an American president. Even Franklin D. Roosevelt, who gave voice to the “ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished” of the land, only painted “one-third of the nation” in those terms. To hear Trump, the entire country is a wreck. Many among us were the wreckers.
The speech packed power, however, by being logical and down to earth. One would imagine the audience will remember what the new president said a lot longer than most of the other political speeches they have heard. Donald Trump rips into establishment, pledges to keep every campaign promise, Charles Hurt, Washington Times, 1/20/17.
It was pretty harsh medicine, to be sure. We all would prefer a soaring message about baseball and apple pie. But unfortunately, in America, the baseball game has been rigged and the apple pie is poisoned. That is not Donald Trump’s fault. It is not his doing. And maybe he cannot fix everything he has promised to fix. But at least he recognizes the grave problems and is willing to address them. No matter how damning it may have been for the crowd sitting all around him.
Or in the words of pollster John Zogby, who was writing as a communications pro rather than a partisan supporter, “it was one hell of a speech.” President Trump’s inaugural address was revolutionary, newsmax.com, 1/20/17.