America wanted change. And that’s what it got.
The journey officially starts Friday with the inauguration of Donald Trump as the nation’s 45th president.
Presidents rise to their times, or are swallowed by them. We hope Trump meets the challenges he is facing.
Our country has never had a leader like him, with neither political nor military experience. But that largely was the point of his election. Voters wanted an outsider to fix a broken system, smash it if necessary and put it back together. Shortly after noon Friday, Trump becomes the ultimate insider and takes ownership of all of our problems.
The nation is emotionally exhausted, wounded, and still terribly divided. Our government has been gridlocked, our political parties upended. Fears of globalization have people worried about newcomers, disappearing jobs, a loss of American exceptionalism, international power shifts and terrorism. As we seek solutions, we often can’t agree on basic sets of facts.
At this pivotal moment, voters took a risk. But change breeds anxiety. The bigger the change the greater the worries, especially for those who didn’t want a revolution. So Trump’s charge is to tread boldly but wisely.
He doesn’t have to adhere to traditional tactics, but he must adhere to the norms of decency. First and foremost, he must not foster more division. Nor should he succumb to the urge to respond to every slight. He is now president of us all.
He cannot favor his personal interests, and must resist the temptation to abuse the great powers of his office — the FBI, judicial and U.S. Attorney appointments — to get back at people. It’s one of his worst impulses, and one he must control.
But we are more than ready for Trump to break down the orthodoxies holding the nation hostage. Republicans and some Democrats have been in thrall to big pharma for decades. If Trump can shatter that and reduce drug prices, that’s great. The same holds for finding a way to make sure that all students get educations that give them the tools to succeed, even if that means challenging the teachers unions and other groups that block serious educational reform. His bluster has already forced lower costs on the F-14 fighter jet; if he can do that across the board with the military industrial complex, he would make Dwight D. Eisenhower proud. Trump’s experience as a developer also gives him an inside track on improving public housing.
The calculus of presidential decision-making is complicated. Trump will need time to figure it out. This is not the same as running a business, even a big one. Crises come at you fast. He’ll need advice, but he’s assembled a Cabinet as unconventional as he is. He has said before he is going to manage it, but the president must be a leader.
Trump’s business style was to infuse every situation with tension as a way to get the result he wanted. Now, not everything is a deal and some things — like the trust of our allies — are more important than notching a bully’s “win.” The financial markets can’t have daily mood swings.
The rest of the world is watching nervously, and uncertainty among international friends is rarely a good thing. The primacy of the United States and, hence, world order, is at stake. Barack Obama’s approach was to assert America’s moral integrity. Trump will have a different way, but he must be consistent so alliances do not fray.
The centerpiece of Friday’s transfer of power will be Trump’s inaugural address. Making a speech is not the same as taking action. But inaugurals are important for the tone they set.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt expressed resoluteness as he confronted the Great Depression. John F. Kennedy spoke of the energy and enthusiasm of a new generation. Ronald Reagan warned of the threat posed by the Soviet Union. Bill Clinton considered the dissonance created by a rapidly changing world and said there was nothing wrong with America that couldn’t be cured by what was right in America. George W. Bush identified freedom as the antidote to hatred, resentment and tyranny in a post-9/11 world. Obama eyed our differences and extolled hope and unity of purpose over fear, conflict and discord.
Trump faces many of the same economic, political and social challenges. We hope he emphasizes what we have in common, our ideals and our identity as Americans. And that he affirms the nation’s guiding principles.
He will take the oath of office on the same Bible used by Abraham Lincoln in 1861. That was the year that Lincoln, with division and fear tearing the country apart, said, “We are not enemies, but friends.” Four years later, Lincoln urged the nation to finish the work toward unity and peace “with malice toward none, with charity for all . . .”
That should be Trump’s guidepost.
As he speaks, there probably will be protesters in the streets. Even more are expected to march Saturday. Some of these voices will be worth listening to. They are expressing anxiety, anger and frustration at having their values and expectations shattered. The same feelings were once felt by many of those who became Trump supporters. That’s the nature of the democracy he now leads. He needs to earn his opponents’ confidence, too.
Presidents have often talked of being humbled and honored by the responsibility they are assuming. This is no longer about Trump, but his service to America.