Less than two weeks into the reality that Donald Trump will be our next president, the situation feels more ominous than on election night.
“At the right time, I will be so presidential you will be so bored,” Trump assured us back in April, when the notion seemed fanciful. “I know when to be presidential.”
Does he? On three dimensions — temperament, competence and ideology — Trump’s conduct since the election has offered more basis for worry than for relief.
That Trump’s temperament is a problem is underscored by exit polls showing that 63 percent of voters do not think he has the temperament to be president — including 26 percent of Trump voters.
In the immediate aftermath of the election, it was possible to argue the temperament case either way. There was Presidential Trump, proclaiming that he would be “president for all Americans.” He dropped the talk about locking up “Crooked Hillary” in favor of praising her service to the country.
And then, increasingly, there was Tweeting Trump, starting with an assault on “professional protesters, incited by the media,” and continuing with a series of attacks on the “failing” New York Times, “upset that they looked like fools in their coverage of me.” Pick your adjective: thin-skinned, childish, unpresidential.
Also in the basket of worries about temperament: Trump’s heedlessness to issues of conflict of interest and nepotism. The government is not, or shouldn’t be, a family business. Whether the federal anti-nepotism law technically applies to Jared Kushner, its spirit would clearly be violated by having Trump bring his 35-year-old son-in-law, entirely lacking in government experience, onto the White House staff.
And the arrangement would pile conflict upon conflict. Trump’s refusal to follow the practice of previous presidents and put his holdings in a blind trust means that his children (and spouses who benefit from their holdings) should be kept at arm’s length from the workings of government — not put on his transition team or in his White House.
On the subject of Trump’s competence, again, voters knew what they were getting: Sixty percent said he is not qualified to be president, including 23 percent of Trump voters. But the apparent disorganization of the transition does not bode well for the conduct of the Trump administration.
Sure, all transitions are chaotic, but Trump’s, with the post-election purge of Chris Christie and the New Jersey governor’s loyalists, has started in a particularly chaotic manner. The Christie-led group, I’m told, was actually in reasonably good shape. But who needs preparedness when there are scores to settle, on the part of the candidate or his son-in-law?
That has left the new, shellshocked Trump team clueless about the magnitude of the task facing them. Really, all White House employees of the previous administration are out the door on Inauguration Day? How were they to know? Um, ask an experienced transition planner?
Third, and most disturbing, are the unnerving clues about the ideological direction of the Trump administration. A president has the right to assemble advisers with whom he is comfortable and who reflect his views.
But most of his choices so far convey the message that loyalty will be rewarded above all, and that Trump’s election night promise to “bind the wounds of division” was empty rhetoric.
Choosing Stephen K. Bannon to be his chief White House strategist does not bind the wounds of division. This is a man who prides himself on being the voice of the alt-right; whose ex-wife said in a sworn declaration that “he doesn’t like Jews” and didn’t want his daughters “going to school with Jews”; whose website blasts a columnist as a “renegade Jew” and proclaims that “birth control makes women unattractive and crazy.”
Choosing Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) to be the nation’s chief law enforcement officer — and oversee issues of discrimination, police brutality and voting rights — does not bind the wounds of division. This is a man who called the NAACP “un-American,” said he thought the Ku Klux Klan was “Okay until I found out they smoked pot” and described a white civil rights lawyer as a “disgrace to his race.”
Choosing retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn to serve as national security adviser does not bind the wounds of division. This is a man who has tweeted that “fear of Muslims is RATIONAL” and described Islam as a “malignant cancer,” a “political ideology” that “hides behind this notion of it being a religion.”
Perhaps the full picture will be less disturbing than the sketch so far. Perhaps Trump will grow on the job. The evidence so far offers slim grounds for hope.
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