We have officially entered the Age of Trump, an era that may be the most contentious and most dangerous to the health of the republic since the Civil War. We are two nations of nearly equal count, divided by opposing views on race, religion, pluralism, sexual orientation, feminism and even science. Each side believes the other is corrupt, mendacious and malicious.
This troubling divide would be difficult to bridge for a personality more temperamentally suited to the task. The imperturbable Barack Obama was sorely tested by the challenge of appealing to critics who insisted he was illegitimate. Hillary Clinton, had she become his successor, would have been confronted with a disloyal opposition that had already promised to embroil her in partisan investigations and spurious lawsuits. She, too, would have been pushed to the limits of her patience.
But neither of them will inhabit the Oval Office for the next four years. Instead, one-half of the nation (less than half, actually) has elected a man who will only widen the chasm that divides us.
President Donald Trump’s campaign was a bold testament to the power of fear and hatred. He pandered to racial prejudices, stoked xenophobia and fueled class resentments. He showed himself to be temperamentally incapable of moderation, unfamiliar with prudence and contemptuous of truth.
A narcissist who lacks even a modicum of self-control, he has been unable or unwilling to give up his habit of aiming his injudicious tweets at every criticism. He blasts the news media; he publicly castigates national security officials; he bucks centuries-old traditions of comity and respect for rivals. No doubt, he will continue to salt our civic wounds, inflame our differences and fuel our sense of grievance. It is hard to imagine a president less capable of leading in these turbulent times.
(New York Times columnist David Brooks has recommended that fellow journalists refrain from covering the inevitable “carnival” that will be an overwhelming aspect of the Trump presidency. “… I’m going to try to respond only to what he does, not what he says or tweets,” he wrote. But that restraint would ignore the power of the American president to move world affairs with his words. They matter.)
Already, a sense of regret has settled over the country. Trump enters office with his approval rating hovering near 40 percent, the lowest of any incoming president in modern history, according to polls. By contrast, 57 percent of Americans approved of George W. Bush shortly after he entered office, while a whopping 68 percent approved of Obama.
And the public’s skepticism of Trump comes before he has actually carried out any of the policies he has promised to promote. He has not yet started a trade war (which could ignite a recession) or built a wall to shut out Mexicans (ditto recession) or banned Muslims (which could further inflame terrorists). Just wait until he and the Republican Congress end Obamacare. Just wait until Trump’s new Supreme Court tries to roll back gay rights.
That doesn’t take into account any number of foreign policy misadventures Trump could stumble into as he values advice from Vladimir Putin over that of national security experts. The world is still paying for Bush’s ill-advised invasion of Iraq, which destabilized the Middle East and led to the rise of the Islamic State group. Let’s hope Trump doesn’t start a war with Iran.
Whatever he does, it will be, I predict, against a backdrop of staggering corruption and disrespect for democratic norms. He seems poised to use the Oval Office to aid his real estate empire, giving his grown children access to secret information and greasing the wheels for foreign deals through diplomatic channels.
Trump has already ignored generations of tradition, refusing to release his tax returns. His lineup of billionaire Cabinet officials is violating the ethical procedures that were dutifully followed by their predecessors of both parties, as they fail to fully disclose all financial entanglements.
And the new president will do all that while vigorously denying that any of it is happening. He is a master of disinformation and propaganda, a charlatan with no moral compass.
So it begins.
Cynthia Tucker won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2007. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IMAGE: U.S. President-elect Donald Trump addresses the “Make America Great Again! Welcome Celebration” at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, U.S., January 19, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Segar