The parades of protesters weeping, vandalizing businesses, carrying the Mexican and Palestinian flags, shouting “Not my president!” and otherwise giving peaceful protest a bad name have been justly rebuked as hysterical. In the week since his election, the president-elect has behaved in a restrained and sober fashion, has observed the rituals of power transition without incident, and has made two hires: one reassuring and the other somewhat troubling.
Surely everyone who wishes the country well should be hoping that the majesty of the office will inspire its next occupant to rise to the occasion. Besides, he hasn’t done anything yet.
The most powerful job in the White House, structurally, is chief of staff. Everything depends upon the president, of course, and Donald Trump could do things differently, but in most White House administrations, the COS holds the reins because he controls who gets to see the president. The man who will wield that power in the Trump White House, Reince Priebus, is the author of the 2013 Republican Party “autopsy” report. Remember that? It recommended that the party improve its outreach to women and minority groups. It endorsed comprehensive immigration reform. If anyone should be in the streets over Trump’s picks so far, it’s arguably the immigration hawks.
As for Steve Bannon, we don’t know what he’ll advise, and we don’t know whether President Trump will heed his advice, whatever it is. His boast that he had made Breitbart.com a platform for the alt-right is not encouraging, nor is much of what appears on that site.
The left has worked itself into a froth over this election in part because they are in a perpetual state of arousal. Some of the terrors they conjure in a Trump era show that they haven’t been listening. “The election of Donald J. Trump to the presidency sent panic through much of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community,” reported The New York Times. But Trump has never suggested the smallest hostility to LGBT people or their agenda. He volunteered, for example, that Caitlyn Jenner should use any bathroom Jenner is comfortable with.
If you watched his convention acceptance speech, Trump seemed to signal distrust of Republicans on gay issues. He took note of the Orlando terror attack and vowed, “As your president, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology. Believe me.” When this was met with applause, he added, “And I have to say that as a Republican that it is so nice to hear you cheering for what I just said.” Was he perhaps expecting that Republicans would be fine with terrorists committing mass murder at gay clubs?
And yet, some of the fear, however overwrought it may seem, is clearly sincere. One thing we know about America’s political culture is that the tendency to live within our own news echo chambers has intensified in recent years. Liberals are reading and hearing about swastikas scrawled on synagogue walls by suspected Trump supporters, while conservatives are seeing stories about protesters carrying signs reading “rape Melania” and about people wearing “Make America Great Again” hats being beaten up. We scarcely speak to or hear one another at all.
As Bill Maher, Frank Bruni and other Democrats have acknowledged, the left has a wolf-crying problem. When you denounce every Republican or conservative as racist, you lose credibility. But the right also has a problem this year, in that Trump truly has transgressed certain taboos. Whipping up a crowd against a Hispanic judge on the grounds of his ethnicity (or for any other reason actually) is indecent and destructive. Falsely insisting that “thousands” of American Muslims celebrated after 9/11 and retweeting false statistics about black-on-white crime is irresponsible.
While many of those in the streets deserve no sympathy, others who are fearful about a Trump presidency could use reassurance. There is no greater megaphone than the presidency, and some signals of magnanimity and unity coming from Donald Trump could go a long way. They might even penetrate the news silos we’ve erected. After one of the ugliest campaigns in history, Trump has an opportunity to offer reconciliation. All but the most bitter partisans would welcome it.