The nation is in crisis, and Donald Trump has an opportunity to fix that.
The new president-elect is more responsible than anyone else for dividing us along racial, ethnic, religious, gender and, importantly, economic lines. He has trashed large segments of the population, and the racism, misogyny, anti-Semitism of some of his supporters — not to mention their lust for intimidation — is rightly terrifying to many Americans.
Trump had to convince aggrieved and less educated whites that they live in a terrible country that used to be better — at a time when, at least coincidentally, much of the country was segregated, the Hispanic population was minimal and women were expected to stay at home or work in menial jobs. His picture of America was fictitious. Our nation has only grown stronger over the years. It is protected from the aggression of other nations by its oceans, its military and the nuclear arsenal that we can only pray he never chooses to unleash.
The very Trumpeters who hate government most are often, unwittingly, major beneficiaries of its tax dollars. The economy isn’t what anyone would like, but it has recovered steadily over President Barack Obama’s two terms. We can only hope that Trump was playing the part of populist firebrand on the campaign trail and is actually much more serious about government operations and public policy than he let on.
Every new president has a chance to redefine Washington’s political landscape, and Trump has more power to do that than any recent predecessor. Here’s why: He has a cult-like hold on his followers, meaning he can convince them to follow him on just about anything; he’s not really beholden to a party whose leaders tried to reject him; and both Republicans and Democrats have to worry that if they don’t get with his program, he’ll seek to destroy their careers.
Trump could opt to behave differently as president than he did as a candidate — he could choose to use that leverage, and the existing institutional leverage of the presidency, to shake up Washington in ways that produce a stronger economy, greater security and a new, bipartisan legislative coalition to address problems more pressing than the absence of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. I don’t trust that he will, but he has the opportunity to do those things. I hope he takes it.