In George Washington’s farewell address in 1796, the nation’s first president argued that the role of the presidency was our most important trust.
It is the faith in an individual to lead us, morally and courageously, with dignity and obedience to the Constitution, and with respect for all Americans. As Donald Trump assumes the office of the presidency on Friday, many people fear we have entered a new era in American democracy, one in which a respect for facts and precedent, as well as those in opposition, will be ignored.
As a reminder, Donald Trump was one of the most vocal champions of the baseless “birther” movement against President Barack Obama. For eight years, he demanded that the first African-American president “show his papers,” and after he did, Trump could not and would not apologize. Rather, the billionaire developer asserted that the official documents were likely false.
This is the man being sworn in as the 45th president — a man expected to lead a nation that is one-third people of color and almost 15 percent foreign born. This is a man who has been endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan, has selected Cabinet members who have been members and/or endorsed by white supremacist groups, and a man who refuses to disavow his confederate flag-waving supporters.
A unifier Trump is not. He has not used his transition period since November 8, 2016 to even pretend that he is a unifier of the diverse groups and beliefs in this country. Instead, what we have witnessed has been a steady stream of incredibly wealthy business people being elevated to positions of power as a reward for their loyalty instead of their expertise in governing.
That represents something much more sinister. Trump assumes office not having released his taxes (his business heavily indebted to foreign and domestic institutions), having been accused of sexual harassment, and exhibiting a willful ignorance of any policy that does not contribute to his business bottom line. The man who will soon represent the United States and the free world writ large has boasted for years that he does not read, he does not need to read, and he just goes on feeling because he’s, “like, a smart guy.” Think of the scores of challenges that erupt around the country and the world, as we witness a leader more interested in tweeting about actresses or ratings on “The Apprentice.”
Despite Trump’s anemic announcement about his sons running the Trump Organization, we are witnessing the ascendancy of a kleptocracy — members of the government, including the president and his family members, using their positions to extend their wealth and political power. For instance, the Trump Hotel in Washington, where foreign diplomats are tripping over themselves to stay because they are assured Trump reads his hotels’ financials in greater detail than he does intelligence briefings.
So, on Friday as Trump places his hand on the Bible and swears to uphold the most sacred trust of the American people, we must all pray that he is somehow inspired to represent the office with the dignity and respect it deserves.
Christina Greer, an associate professor at Fordham University, is the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American dream.”