Guest Opinion: Don’t write Trump off yet
President Donald Trump’s strange first week on the job invites over-the-top criticism. The idea that his vanity is so powerful that he has convinced himself — absent any evidence — that he actually won the Nov. 8 popular vote, and that he wants to launch a costly and pointless investigation into this theory, is hard to fathom. Trump’s casual use of Twitter to provoke a fight with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and prompt him to cancel a scheduled meeting hints at chaos ahead in foreign policy. Trump’s Twitter threat to “send in the feds” if Chicago can’t reduce gun violence — citing statistics just aired on Fox News — suggests an impulsiveness and a need for attention that is scary in a commander-in-chief.
But we choose to respect the office he’s in and not to act like detached or angry critics. Trump’s actions over the next four years will affect every American and probably billions more people as well. Our goal is to try to get the president to operate in a more constructive way. Fuming over his behavior and sputtering about his refusal to operate within traditional norms and boundaries accomplishes nothing.
Politico’s recent interview with three of Trump’s biographers offered many reasons for concern. For starters, Trump’s recent behavior is not some aberration produced by the pressure of the spotlight and the presidency. “It seems like the exact same M.O. that we saw throughout his career, throughout the campaign, and now,” said Gwenda Blair. “This is all about him completely dominating the news cycles — the use of Twitter to distract from any real questions, emphasis on loyalty, vituperation toward anyone he sees who is disloyal or doesn’t toe his line, and his emphasis on conflict, the notion of setting people against each other. Now it’s countries against each other. It’s news organizations against each other.”
Added Tim O’Brien, “He’s been unable to find a clean division between his own emotional needs and his own insecurities and simply being a healthy, strategically committed leader who wants to parse through good policy options.”
Yet O’Brien also made a point that offers hope for America: While Trump may hate “the establishment, he also desperately wants to be approved by it.” And both he and Blair appeared pleasantly surprised by the heft of some of Trump’s high-powered Cabinet appointments.
So instead of anguishing over all of Trump’s transgressions, this editorial board will focus on the substance of his administration’s actions. When it comes to foreign policy, we hope the president heeds Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson, who came across as thoughtful and practical in their Senate nomination hearings. When it comes to the economy, we hope the president heeds Wilbur Ross, his nominee for commerce secretary, a man who became a billionaire on the strength of his brilliance and willingness to be unorthodox.
Donald Trump has already been a president like no other, and he will continue to be. But if he wants Americans’ approval, feeding them reality TV-style outrage and bombast is a hollow diet. Americans don’t want a destructive president.
Our goal is to help Trump figure this out.