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Donald Trump’s mixed messages don’t reassure nation

Trump campaign CEO Steve Bannon leaves an elevator

Trump campaign CEO Steve Bannon leaves an elevator in the lobby of Trump Tower in Manhattan on Nov. 11, 2016. Credit: Getty Images / Drew Angerer

Donald Trump provided a sober, responsible vision for how he plans to govern in an appearance on “60 Minutes” Sunday. The president-elect was more moderate and nuanced about some of the most extreme positions he took during the campaign on gay marriage, a wall on the Southern border, deportation of immigrants, the potential prosecution of Hillary Clinton and Obamacare. Surrounded by his family, Trump’s temperament was calm, analytical and even kindly.

Also on Sunday, Trump named Stephen K. Bannon the chief strategist for his soon-to-begin presidency. Bannon is the neophyte campaign manager who helped Trump get elected and has been chairman of Breitbart News, a radical website beloved by “white power” racists, KKK members and many virulently anti-Semitic internet consumers and commenters. And Trump named Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus as White House chief of staff, suggesting that rather than “drain the swamp” of Washington insiders, he would let them captain the tour boats.

Yet again, Americans are scratching their heads at the many often oppositional messages Trump sends, and at whether the confusion is purposeful. The shock and consternation of last week, for many, have morphed into an unsettling uncertainty. It’s a queasy and uneasy vibe.

And the uncertainty, for many, is terrifying. If the Affordable Care Act is how you pay for dialysis or the law that granted you Medicaid, Trump’s plans for Obamacare really matter. If you are an 11-year-old citizen whose parents came illegally from Guatemala and may soon be sent back, you need to know exactly what criteria Trump is using for his deportation program.

What are the goals? What are the plans? What is the meaning of these seemingly contradictory moves?

Looking to the “60 Minutes” version of Trump, it’s believable that the appointment of Priebus means the president-elect is moving away from hyperbolic campaign stances and toward plausible policies for governing. He told interviewer Leslie Stahl that same-sex marriage has already been settled by the Supreme Court, and that he has no desire to change that. He said that for now, he’s looking to deport only immigrants here illegally who have broken other laws, that the wall might be a fence in places, that parts of Obamacare might be fine to keep and that Bill and Hillary Clinton are “good people” who might not need a special prosecutor investigating them after all.

But what of Bannon? It’s possible Trump named him as a headfake to soothe those supporters who deeply fear a multicultural America, who see the word Muslim as a synonym for terrorist and who can’t quite shake the feeling that conspiracies of Zionists and liberals and the media have been driving the world’s agenda. But it’s also possible that the regressive, intolerant views held by Bannon are going to have a significant hand in crafting intolerable policies.

Right now, it’s impossible to tell what Trump is trying to do. At a time when the nation needs reassurance, that’s reassuring no one. — The editorial board


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