Donald Trump (R) is the President-Elect of the United States.
It still doesn’t sound right, does it? The election was nearly two months ago and yet its outcome is still somehow . . . unsettling. Don’t get me wrong; I am thrilled that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D) didn’t win. I had the usual concerns about her policies and judgement, and about her dangerous and improper handling of classified material, but the deciding factor was my expectation that she would appoint decisively anti-liberty justices to the United States Supreme Court . . . a court that already has us hanging in the balance between freedom and subjugation. There is more on this in my presidential election endorsement.
And yet, as you can read in that endorsement, I am no fan of Trump’s. Though I am cautiously optimistic that some of Trump’s worst tendencies will be blunted by conservatives and libertarians in his administration and in Congress, I still fear that he will push the limits of executive authority, play fast-and-loose with the law, and operate well outside of the limits of the U.S. Constitution. So I celebrate that we will likely be spared—for now—a decisively anti-liberty Supreme Court. I celebrate the apparent end of the Bush and Clinton political dynasties. I celebrate the peaceful transfer of power. But I do not celebrate Trump’s win in-and-of itself. (And I certainly do not celebrate the absurd overreaction to the outcome by those on the political left, or their petulant efforts to de-legitimize the outcome of a [mostly] free and fair election.)
Eight years ago, I felt about the way I do today. Then, as now, we had a politically inexperienced president-elect who came to power in an angry, frustrated America. Then, as now, we had lofty promises of long-overdue changes, and a vow that the new administration would seek compromises and common ground across political party lines. Then, as now, we were promised that America would disentangle itself from foreign affairs and tend to our own house and our own people. And then, as now, even though I harbored a long list of disagreements with the president-elect, I welcomed him, and offered my hopes and prayers for his safety and success.
But now the hard work begins. Beginning next month, Trump will have to govern.
Governing is very different than campaigning. President Barack Obama’s (D) campaign on faux-populism quickly gave way to a presidency of politics-as-usual. On January 23, 2008, just three days after his inauguration, Obama famously dismissed Republican legislative proposals by telling Republican leaders to pound sand. “Elections have consequences,” he said, “and at the end of the day, I won.” So much for bipartisanship! And he wonders why Republicans spent the next eight years in the same spirit of bull-headed intransigence.
A comfortable electoral win does not translate into a mandate, especially when much of that vote is motivated by anger and frustration. In 2008, people voted for Obama to make a statement against President George W. Bush (R) and the economic situation. It was not a vote for left-wing progressivism. And though I did not vote for him, I understood why people did. I too wanted to see a new era of compromise, transparency, and optimism, which is what Obama promised. But he misread the electorate badly, burned every bridge he had with conservatives and moderates, and then paid the price for it with massive Democratic losses in Congress in 2010. Thus ended any chance Obama had for greatness . . . or even for mediocrity.
This year, many voted against Obama and politics-as-usual. It was not a vote for Trump’s weird brand of center-left strong-man-ism. And it certainly wasn’t a vote for right-wing conservatism, which, yet again, wasn’t even on the ballot. Obama had virtually no mandate, and Trump has even less of one. So if he follows in Obama’s footsteps and uses his office just to thumb his nose at the opposition, he will earn his own stinging rebuke from an angered nation when the mid-terms roll around in 2018. And if that happens, Trump’s presidency—like Obama’s—will be destined for the dustbin of history.
In 2008, I wrote, “It is my fervent hope that Obama will be a good president. I pray for his safety, and I pray for prudence in his decision making. I am hopeful that Obama will unify this country and refrain from pursuing (with a Democratic-controlled Congress) a radical [progressive] agenda. When he walks down the wrong paths, I will call him out. When he walks down the right ones, I will support him.” Today, I can say nearly the same thing about Trump. It is my fervent hope that he will be a good president. I will pray for his safety, and for prudence in his decision making. I hope that he will unify this country and refrain from pursuing (with a Republican-controlled Congress) a radical agenda. And, as I have with his predecessors, I will call him out when he walks down the wrong paths, and support him when he walks down the right ones.
For all his faults, Trump has proved to be a surprisingly shrewd and resilient politician. If he wasn’t, he could never have won the Republican nomination, let alone the general election. He knew what many voters wanted, and then sold it to them. But all of that is in the past . . . what matters is what comes next. It remains to be seen whether his presidency will vindicate the worst fears of his opposition, or affirm the highest hopes of his supporters. I too fear the worst. But I will continue to hope for the best. And I know that, in the aftermath of a presidential campaign full of surprises, Trump could very well surprise us again.