In the 1950s there was a popular television sit-com starring William Bendix called “The Life of Riley.” In the show Bendix played well-intended but blundering Chester A. Riley who worked as a wing riveter at the fictional Cunningham Aircraft plant in California. When life became too confusing or something didn’t go the way he planned, Riley would exclaim in frustration, “What a revoltin’ development this is!”
It seems that for a lot of people in the country, the recent presidential election victory of Donald Trump has become a “revoltin’ development.” The shock of his election has been intensified because the very idea of Trump winning was dismissed out of hand by almost everyone. Trump was roundly chastised for his crude, vulgar and even racist comments about virtually everyone, but especially against women, minorities, Gays, immigrants, Muslims and the political establishment. But the ferocity of the pushback against Trump since the election evokes images of third-world countries more than it does of the most enduring representative democracy in the history of the world.
Most people reacted to the election of Trump with a sense of astonishment, but for millions of others it triggered anxiety, desperation and even fear. In the aftermath of the election, hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets in over a dozen cities to passionately and sometimes violently protest Trump’s election. The media has generally soft-pedaled these protests as simply a right of free expression in a democracy, but you do have to wonder if these demonstrations would have been viewed in the same light, if Trump had lost the election and his supporters had taken to the streets. (It is fair to ask where these passionate protesters were during the election and why they did not support Clinton with such fervor. If they had, certainly the results would have been different.)
Feelings over the top …
The reality is that both Trump supporters and his detractors have overacted to his election. It is as if the country is suffering from a manic-depressive illness, with Trump supporters exhibiting irrational euphoria and Clinton voters writhing in a deep psychotic depression. There is overreaction – especially fanned by the media – to everything Tromp does, or does not do.
It would be best for everyone – especially for the country – if we would all just step back and chill out.
The first thing to remember is that Trump was elected president, not dictator. The subtle beauty of our constitution is that it was purposefully structured to put a governor on the powers of a president. The drafters of the constitution were deeply fearful of a president becoming a despot, so they installed a series of “checks and balances” intended to limit the power of the president. Under the structure of our government, any president has limited power to deliver on the overheated expectations of his supporters or to fully implement policies his detractors fear.
It’s not as bad as it seems …
To gain some perspective on the political divisions in the country today, we only need to look back at the Viet Nam era. Many are not old enough to remember, but during the Viet Nam War, the nation was politically divided in a way not seen since the Civil War. The disruption, protests, bombings and mob violence of the time make the protests against Trump seem more like a society cotillion ball. During the Viet Nam era there was a feeling that the country was coming apart at the seams and would not survive. But you know what? The country did survive and we were better for it. Trump’s election impact on the country is not nearly as cataclysmic as was the Viet Nam War, and no matter what he does, the country will survive; and maybe be better for it.
One benefit from Trump’s election is that it may shake the complacency of those who have passively accepted the benefits of expanding social rights as an entitlement, rather than a reward for hard work. Fear of Trump (however misplaced it may turn out to be) may be a motivating factor for those progressives, liberals and Democrats who applauded the work of others, but have not been willing to take up the cause with action; much like the conservatives were motivated to form groups such as the Tea Party when Obama was elected.
Trump may not be who you think he is …
The other misnomer may be about Trump himself. Both those who are for and against Trump took his comments in the campaign too literally. The reality is that Trump is more Democrat than he is Republican. In fact, the main criticism of Trump during the Republican primaries was that “he is not a real Republican.” Viewed in the perspective of actions he has taken in the past and what he has proposed, Trump could be considered a political centaur – half Republican and half-Democrat. Ultimately, this may empower Trump to break the gridlock in Washington that has frustrated the people – of both Parties – in this country. Have you noticed that unlike traditional Republican dogma, Trump has proposed increased government spending, rather than reducing it?
The irony is that in the end Trump may stir the ire of Republicans more than Democrats. He campaigned on and proposed extensive infrastructure investment, punishing companies that move jobs overseas, called for a complete overhaul of the tax code; closing tax loopholes for the wealthy, allowing a reduction in taxes for everyone. Trump has favored child tax credits and mandatory paid maternity leave. These are all programs that have been pushed by Obama and the Democrats, but thwarted by Republicans.
As a successful businessman, Trump has shown that he is much more a pragmatist than an ideologue. He is trained by experience and nature to focus on the objective and get it done, no matter what he has to do or who he has to work with. This is the exact opposite mindset exhibited by Republican leaders and of those who have recently inhabited the White House.
What this all comes down to is that – whether or not he takes advantage of it – Trump has the opportunity to become a change-agent president, the likes of which we have not seen since Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt. The former changed the financial contract between the government and the people, to make financial opportunity more equitable for all. FDR changed the social contract between government and the people to create more protection and security for all. Being a pragmatist not wedded to any political ideology, Trump may become a catalyst that could change the way the government deals with problems. Given the current heated rhetoric and stalemate in governing, it is difficult to be optimistic, but Trump’s scarcity of experience in government and his independence from a fixed ideology could bring back what made America great and that is a pragmatic bipartisan approach to governing.
Trump may become the colossal failure that many expect or he could surprise us by his approach and effectiveness. It certainly would not be the first time that Trump has surprised us. Either way, whether we agree with him or not, he has earned the right to be given a chance to prove us right or wrong. One thing is certain: Our form of government will prevent Trump from being as ineffective as he could be or as effective as he wants to be. And we will survive.