On Friday, Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States. He comes to the White House with the lowest approval ratings of any new president in decades. It is up to him to prove that he is up to the challenges of the presidency and to make his term a success.
Since his November victory, there have been much anger, fear and concern about how Trump will govern a divided country. His transition to the presidency — marked by several cabinet nominees who appear more interested in ideology than confronting reality, a slow drip of worrisome news about Trump’s connections to Russia and Trump’s own ill-considered outbursts on Twitter — has done nothing to assuage those concerns.
“I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans, and this is so important to me,” Trump said in his victory speech in the early hours of Nov. 9.
This, of course, is the right standard. We, along with millions of others, are waiting for Trump to prove he has the necessary discipline to handle the big challenges facing America and the world.
The first thing Trump can do to ensure he is the president of all Americans is to stop picking these distracting fights. As president of the United States, he has the biggest bully pulpit in the world. He shouldn’t abuse it to demean people such as civil rights crusader Rep. John Lewis, actress Meryl Streep and the media. Picking such fights does nothing to advance the country’s interests; they only exacerbate division.
Presidents surround themselves with people who share their ideals and with whom they are comfortable. But many of Trump’s choices are particularly divisive.
Picking Steve Bannon, who for years oversaw a vitriolic website that promoted white supremacy and misogyny, as his chief strategist sent a message about Trump’s values. Incidentally, bomb threats were called into at least 20 Jewish organizations around the country, including in Portland, on Wednesday.
Picking Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency also sent a specific message. As Oklahoma attorney general, Pruitt has repeatedly sued the EPA. And choosing as education secretary a staunch supporter of private education who, we learned Wednesday, knows little about basic federal education laws and believes schools need to allow guns to protect students from grizzly bears, sends a discouraging message as well about Trump’s values and priorities.
Then there’s Trump’s man crush on Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, whom Trump has lavished with praise. Is Trump just naive and being used by Putin, who has long sought to discredit western democracies in order to build support for his authoritarian rule? Or does Trump have business interests in Russia that necessitate a good relationship with Putin? Neither answer is comforting.
For these and many more reasons, many in America are on edge.
Trump has yet to convince them he will consider, let alone stand up for, their interests as president. His obligation to follow through with his victory pledge and be the president of all Americans is much greater than the obligation of all Americans to accept Trump as their president.
We would like to tell all Americans that they must respect and honor their new president, but Trump — through words and actions — has yet to earn that respect.