Opinion editors: Trump must govern with dignity to unite America
If Donald Trump is to achieve the greatness he claims his presidency will have, he must shed his combative attitude and make amends with those he has offended. (Creative Commons photo by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons)
It seems the President’s obsession with making America great again means leaving half of it by the wayside.
Friday marks the first day of President Donald Trump’s term. Historians will look back on this past election as a watershed moment in American politics. But among the many things future students might be quizzed on, we need to make certain the death of dignity isn’t one of them.
We all know the 2016 presidential campaign was tumultuous and raucous. Punches were thrown, rules were broken and politicians walked away from the ring more bloodied than ever. Trump picked fights with anybody and everybody who dared oppose him, and he strategically played on the country’s socio-economic fault lines to win his way to the presidency.
In the process, Trump has thrown decency out the back window. He has achieved power, but not greatness.
If Trump really wants to go down in history as a great president, he needs to exude the strong leadership he so dearly prides. And that means more than just whizzing away his tiny thumbs at those who stand against him. It means making amends with those he has clashed with, demonstrating cool control in the face of adversity and not purposefully antagonizing half the country to supposedly “make it great again.”
His best, and perhaps only, chance to make amends and try to gain more widespread support is now, at the beginning of his presidency. Most leaders usually enjoy a “honeymoon period,” where the public is at least willing to hear them out and give them and their policies a chance. So far, however, Trump has squandered potential goodwill with his impulsive, combative style. He now stands to enter office with a 44 percent approval rating according to the Wall Street Journal, by far the lowest of any modern president entering office. And assuming the public reacts to his presidency like they have to every one before, that rating will only go down.
But instead of taking his underwater approval rating – at what should be the high-water mark of his political career – as a sign to make significant effort to broaden his appeal, Trump continues to bury his head in the sand. Like everything and everyone else who doesn’t match up with his fantasy reality, he’s taken to Twitter to call the polls “fake” and “phony.”
Maybe it looks that way from the Trump Tower penthouse in Manhattan, but here in California and elsewhere across the country, you don’t need to look far to see that people are unhappy and scared. Trump’s first day in office will face one of the most high-profile protests to date, and that’s not even mentioning the many protests that have already ensued. People are afraid they will lose their healthcare, see their friends and family deported or be subjected to prejudice and discrimination with renewed vigor.
It’s up to Trump to repair his goodwill and make legitimate outreach to skeptics a cornerstone of his first 100 days in office. He must vow to protect the marginalized communities who stand to lose so much from his current path. He must formulate specific, legitimate policy proposals and calmly and rationally explain to his liberal constituents why his ideas will improve their lives. Furthermore, he must also show them at least nominal respect, instead of writing off their real fears and worries as the machinations of “fake” news.
Certainly, Trump can point to his November victory as justification for his brutish tactics and strongman tendencies. However, we shouldn’t forget that Trump lost the popular vote by more than any of his predecessors. In other words, he simply won on technicalities, despite how many “fraudulent” voters he wants to conjure up in his defense.
And even if numbers don’t appeal to him, it should be clear to the billionaire deal-maker that politics is about making friends, be that at home or overseas. Considering the cold shoulder leaders around the world are giving him, and the resistance some of his proposals face from his fellow Republicans in Congress, it should be clear that verbally bludgeoning those who oppose his viewpoints doesn’t inspire the least bit of camaraderie or reverence. After all, not everybody is as flaky as Ted Cruz when it comes to handling the insults and abuses Trump has dealt.
This is ultimately more than just a partisan concern. Trump has picked fights with those on both sides of the aisle, and greatness in governance means leading with dignity. And that means Trump has to elevate above the firefight and aspire to gain the approval of all Americans – not just Sean Hannity or Breitbart readers.
Maybe to Trump, the ends justify the means. But if making America great again happens without the backing of half the country, then it can be called anything but great.
Read more Daily Bruin coverage of the presidential inauguration, along with analysis of California and federal policy under the Trump Administration: