President-elect Donald Trump needs to heal, not revel. That is, he must work on healing the divided country he is about to lead, not continue to revel in his victory with a round of thank-you rallies.
Instead, we see: Trump griping about the political correctness of being named “person of the year.” Quieting, but not really, chants of “lock her up.” Revving up the crowd against the “very dishonest” media. Thanking African Americans who “didn’t come out to vote.” Jabbing at the “foolish” White House press secretary for daring to point out that candidate Trump had encouraged Russian hacking.
Crybaby, the Trump supporters will tweet. He won, get over it. But the president-elect is the one who seems to be having a hard time getting over it, or rising above, or inhabiting the responsibility — the majesty — of his new role.
“Elections have consequences, and at the end of the day, I won,” a newly sworn-in President Obama said eight years ago. So I accept: Trump won, Hillary Clinton lost. That has consequences for personnel and policy.
But the manner of winning and the scope of victory also have consequences. Let Trump proclaim his electoral college “landslide” — not true. Let him insist that he would have triumphed in the popular vote as well, “if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” Deduct away, notwithstanding that there is zero evidence of such massive fraud.
Even by Trump math, he will preside over a deeply divided country. Half its citizens, or more, are worried about what a Trump presidency augurs. They doubt that he has the temperament or experience for the job. It is Trump’s responsibility to reassure and reach out to them. It is his duty to consider — not summarily reject — evidence that Russia may have intervened on his behalf.
This is the sixth presidential transition I have witnessed, beginning with Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan in 1980, and the mood of the city is like no other. “Anxious” does not begin to convey the profound sense of worry.
The Reagan parallel may be most instructive. His election was greeted with a degree of shocked condescension by a large segment of the city’s permanent establishment. The conservative blueprint of the Heritage Foundation was ascendant. The Reagan people swept into town for the inauguration, with their furs and limousines, and it felt like an invasion, a hostile takeover of government. Plus ça change.
But for all the disdain with which Reagan was greeted, the genial star of “Bedtime for Bonzo” was a far less frightening figure than Trump. He had governed the nation’s largest state; he had a clear, and clearly understood, political philosophy. The establishment may have disagreed with Reagan; it did not view him with dread.
Thus, the Post editorial board, the day of Reagan’s inauguration, acknowledged “the political and ideological meaning of the Reagan victory,” yet noted approvingly that the new president “has shown . . . an ease and openness and willingness to expand his perspective that is as admirable as it is essential — essential to a successful presidency.”
The next day, New York Times columnist James Reston noted the “paradox that those who were most determined to elect Mr. Reagan now seem more worried about what he will do as president than those who opposed him.”
That those conservative jitters proved unfounded does not undermine my point about the chasm between Washington’s wary embrace of the 40th president and its cringing at the prospect of the 45th.
Now, sober-minded people speak in all seriousness about fears for the future of the republic and the prospect of impeachment. These are not wild leftists but experienced hands, with long historical memories and understanding of how power ebbs and flows here. Whether or not these dire prognostications prove correct, the fact they are being voiced is alarming.
Dismiss this as the griping of obsolescent elites, but regular Americans are similarly apprehensive. Majorities in a Pew Research Center poll say Trump is reckless (65 percent) and has poor judgment (62 percent). More Americans (38 percent) believe he will be a poor or terrible president than are confident (35 percent) he will be a good or great one. Crowds at Trump rallies cheer, but the country worries.
In his finest post-election moment, Trump, echoing Lincoln, vowed on election night to “bind the wounds of division.” To acknowledge citizens’ concerns and adjust accordingly is an essential, if unlikely, first step — so far missing from the president-elect’s repertoire.
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