Somebody was going to be mad after this election. We all thought it was going to be the frustrated people whose anger at the establishment of both parties fueled the rise of Donald Trump. Instead it is the establishment itself, the politicians of both parties, crony capitalists, media elites, politically correct faculty of our universities and lobbyists.
More sadly, millions of citizens, who bought into the establishment narrative about the dire future that awaits America at the hands of Trump and the “deplorables,” are this morning angry and fearful about what lies ahead. The lessons of history though, should give them some comfort about the future.
If prophecy were the excusive privilege of those who accurately predicted the election results, we would be in for a long period of silence. That won’t stop me.
America voters showed that we are still a sharply divided country but that is our natural state. The world is not coming to an end. The sky is not falling. The sun is out. Those very differences are the sign of diverse views given voice in a lively democracy. Any Presidential election leaves millions of the opponent’s supporters disappointed.
A smaller portion of the disappointed will take immediately to virulent, implacable hostility to the administration of the other party. As much as the peaceful transition of power itself, the freedom of these angry dissidents to rail at the government unmolested by the authorities is, if occasionally unpleasant for the rest of us, a sign of the vitality of our democracy. Nothing said here will pacify them. For the merely worried and anxious, there is hope.
36 years ago, in 1980 half the nation was horrified at the election of President Ronald Reagan, a former show business celebrity, widely believed to be insubstantial, largely ignorant of substance and encumbered by a short attention span. His antagonists expressed certainty he would lead us into nuclear war. President Reagan faced the furies of the groups we see already railing at the new President-Elect, exemplified by the talking heads on CNN and MSNBC who cannot contain their horror at the future. President George W. Bush was similarly dismissed as a lightweight by antagonists who even contested the legitimacy of his election and attacked him mercilessly for the entire eight years of his incumbency.
This tendency is not partisan. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama both faced a barrage of harsh criticism from their earliest days in office from angry conservatives, radio talk show hosts and, latterly, for the perceived growth of big spending and intrusive government at the expense of personal freedom.
President-Elect Trump is not Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush. Trump is not as ideologically conservative as either. More importantly, he displays an impulsive and often mean-spirited personality, inconsistent with the role of a modern President as dignified spokesmen for the nation. All of our most recent Presidents excelled at giving voice to the feelings of the nation at times of tragedy or crisis.
Trump was gracious in his victory remarks in the early morning after the election and at his meeting with President Obama today. It is unsettling though, that many of us shared a moment of anxiety before he spoke, hoping that he would behave well.
We have not seen his like in Presidential temperament since Andrew Jackson was elected in 1828.
Jackson was a self-educated frontier planter who achieved fame as a militia general, fighting Indians and, in the War of 1812, the British. A rough, hot-tempered, impatient man who had fought duels, he had never held significant elected office. He was regarded with trepidation by the Washington elites of the day as a rude backwoods ruffian. Their worst fears were realized when a mob of his supporters trashed the White House, celebrating the inauguration.
The Republic survived and Jackson is considered one of the more successful Presidents. More importantly those who voted for Trump did so in spite of his rude personality, not because of it. His voters refused to be distracted by what they regard as trivia and focused on the prize. In a column in the Cape Cod Times last January, Why on earth Donald Trump?, I did spot the force behind the Trump phenomenon:
“Trump benefits from [his supporters’] perception that most politicians are primarily interested in retaining office and beholden less to the voters than to those who provide financial and other support to their campaigns. To them a change of parties in Washington means a switch from one set of crony capitalists, social issue warriors and special interest groups to another. They dislike what they see as catering to government employee unions, litigious trial lawyers, race baiters and climate change zealots as much as they do big business, Wall Street and the 1%.”
I even noted in that column how Trump might win in spite of unfavorable polling:
“[H]istory shows us that polls often under-count the support for candidates who are widely disparaged as supported by ignorant bigots. Some voters will not admit to the pollster that they like the despised candidate.”
While those voters overlooked Trump’s shortcomings in temperament to elect him, he must exercise some personal restraint to be a successful President.
Personality and ideology aside, there may be much similarity in the Presidential management styles of Trump and Reagan. Like Reagan, Trump is a “big picture” executive, content to leave the details of execution to subordinates. A very important factor in the success of a Trump presidency is the choice of those subordinates, which is going on right now. If Trump appoints strong wise people who know how to deal with him – I assume that means standing up to him without being confrontational – his Presidency can be a triumph.
Among the publicly suggested candidates for Chief of Staff have been former Speaker Newt Gingrich, Governor Chris Christie and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Any of these would be a disaster. They all crave the limelight while the ideal White House staffer must have “a passion for anonymity.” The Chief of Staff must be well organized, focused and trusted by the President. Except for this last, those are not qualities apparent in those men. Better options would be Trump Campaign Manager Kellyanne Conway or Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.
The rage of a minority of those dispossessed by the last election is apparently a permanent feature of our democracy. The only variation seems to be that the hostility of the political right does not usually manifest itself in large crowds protesting in the streets. (I will avoid the easy cheap shot and leave it to the reader to decide why that should be so.)
But as Hillary Clinton herself said when finally publicly conceding Wednesday morning, “Donald Trump is going to be our President. We owe him an open mind and a chance to lead.”
President Obama too was optimistic about a smooth transition, saying, “It is no secret that President-Elect Trump and I have some significant differences. Eight years ago President Bush and I had some pretty significant differences.” He added “We are rooting for his success… Ultimately we are all on the same team.”
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Wise words driven by recent history, calmly delivered away from the errant noise of the day. Thanks for that.