By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders
Usually by the end of November there is nothing more to comment upon following the election of a new president. The winner is going about the process of transitioning from campaigning to governing by selecting a cabinet and key advisors. The loser is out of the spotlight. But then again, there was nothing usual about this past campaign or election. So as the calendar changes to December, the drama swirling around President-elect Donald Trump seems to just go on and on. If we thought this soap opera of a year would settle into something more resembling a dependable documentary, well not so fast. In the 1980s the rallying cry of his supporters was “Let Reagan be Reagan.” Is this what we want from a Donald Trump presidency?
The candidate Trump who specialized in tweeting out information of dubious fact or reliability is still at it. During the campaign he said things like: most white people who were murdered were killed by blacks. This claim was patently false but never retracted. Trump continued to propagate the myth that President Obama was not a bona fide American until the final weeks of the campaign and then stunningly said his opponent, Hillary Clinton, actually started the whole fib back in 2008. Another whopper was his suggestion that his chief rival for the Republican nomination, Ted Cruz, had family ties connected to the assassination of President Kennedy. What?!
Among other curious statements, now Mr. Trump is asserting that he won the election in a “landslide” and even denies the fact that he actually lost the popular vote by over two million according to the latest tabulations. His reasoning is that millions of fraudulent votes were cast for his opponent. Of course in keeping with his campaign style, no evidence is provided to support such an allegation. He then lashes out at reporters, as he did throughout the campaign, who have the temerity to contradict his unsupported claims.
So why is any of this important, and isn’t it just background noise of little significance to the incoming administration? Sadly the answer is no. Absent any far-fetched recount reversal of Electoral College results, Donald Trump will become president on January 20, 2017. He will possess and wield the full force of power that resides in that office. And when you are president and governing the nation, truth and accurate information actually matter.
The first responsibility of the president is to at least try to make sober fact-based decisions on crucial issues. Being president is not like being the CEO of a business conglomerate. Your positions as president will and should be scrutinized by a free and curious press. And yes criticism will be coming your way constantly from reporters and the media. In fact that is their job. And it is a crucial job in a democracy.
This may be a new experience for someone who is used to having his final word go unquestioned and firing those who object or disagree.
Thus far Donald Trump had shown little inclination to change his style of attacking anyone who disagrees with him no matter how outlandish his assertions may be. Nor does Donald Trump seem to respect the critical role of a free press as a watchdog and check on government. Dissent does not seem to be in his lexicon.
One hopes that as the days to January 20 draw closer that Donald Trump will begin to comprehend the awesome responsibilities of president of the United States and to faithfully exercise the powers of that office with discretion and respect for facts and the divergent opinions of others. Perhaps even to appreciate why disagreement and opposition is necessary to a healthy democracy.
It is past time to move from the rough and tumble of a very contentious campaign to the very serious business of governing. The question is does the otherwise thin skinned and criticism averse CEO Trump have the capacity or predilection to actually be President Trump in the tradition of his 44 predecessors? Even Richard Nixon understood the vigilant role of the press in a democracy although he surely did not like it.
If Donald Trump is looking for a person to emulate as he enters the White House, he might wish to spend some time during the next two months reading up on our 16th president who is still far more than just a face on our currency. Lincoln’s words still have meaning today, “to bind the nation’s wounds, with malice towards none and charity for all.”