“Show Me, Trump”
Donald J. Trump has won the General Election to become the 45th President of the United States in a startling upset victory over the heavily-favored former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. This election awakened the political sensibilities of a 17-year old student who will be a first-year college student in 20 months’ time. So many emotions have bubbled to the surface in the last week since the results of the election became clear near 3:00 a.m. on the U.S. East Coast. My daughter has been distraught as she witnessed the death of her dream of seeing a woman in the White House.
This author has been no fan of the President Elect since he first announced his unlikely candidacy in June 2015. This author has compared his divisive rhetoric to the rogues’ gallery of history’s best known demagogues, regardless of political affiliation, such as Hugo Chavez, Juan Peron, and Francisco Franco, to name a few. His threats against the press echo those of Ecuador’s Rafael Correa. He won in spite of having belittled or bullied practically every segment of American society, including the disabled, immigrants, Muslims, Gold Star families, prisoners of war, and even the Pope, while having attracted the support of various parts of American white nationalism.
At the lectern, however, having received a concession call from Secretary Clinton, Donald Trump stated “I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be President for all Americans.” To this author, these words seemed completely incongruent with the thrust of the Trump campaign since day one, and so initiated speculation and debate about whether the awful rhetoric was simply a means to an end, or marked a real departure from the course the nominee had set throughout the duration of the campaign.
The next 90 days before the inauguration, and then the first 100 days of the new Administration will provide the evidence for the world of the answer to that question. Words mean little when it comes to political leaders. Rather, as the shock of the election wears off, we will do well to remain focused on the actions that the President Elect takes. Whether Trump will use the rhetoric of the campaign to enact similarly-themed laws or whether he takes a more traditionally conservative tack will remain to be seen.
Regardless of which approach emerges from the transition and into the first 100 days, we should be mindful of the types of changes that prior demagogues have forced on their own populations in pursuit of power. The United States is a strong Republic in large part due to the strength of its institutions. In the event the new President attempts tinkering with those – laws to limit free speech, the free press, the size of the Supreme Court, to repeal the 22nd Amendment limiting Presidents to two terms, for example – then we will indeed know the true nature of the person we have elected. In the meantime, however, I remain willing to extend him the benefit of the doubt that he will be “President for all Americans.” But I come from Missouri: You have to Show Me.