Yes, Donald Trump won the presidential election and will be our next president in a matter of weeks, but the question that sticks with me is, “Can he win?”
That is what I have been wondering since November 9th and I wonder if Trump has been wondering the same.
During his campaign he spoke freely, unfettered by his party. When he spoke of draining the swamp, building the wall, and prosecuting Hillary Clinton he spoke from his own personal platform with a distinct disregard for the typical candidate alignment with party platforms and agendas. This disregard made his Washington outsider argument stronger, as he seemed unhampered by all the strings, favors, and other failings so often associated with what folks perceive as an unwieldy, self-serving, and self-perpetuating government.
Not that he was ever polished or perfect on the campaign trail. One is hard-pressed to find another past presidential candidate with quite as many gaffes as Trump. Yet, the lack of polish and perfection in this arena appeared to many to be an indicator of his genuineness and a confirmation that he wasn’t the type of political animal that they were weary of. And so it was that he won the electoral college vote and the election.
Alas, his win was a shock to pretty much everyone, arguably to include Trump himself. His election was followed by protests in cities across America unlike anything we have seen in past presidential contests. His success seemed to illuminate the extent to which our country is deeply divided. Although, I must confess, the extent of that division is somewhat murky to me as only a little more than half of eligible voters actually voted (roughly 58% per Michael McDonald from the US Elections Project). Hence, it would appear to me that of the potential voting population in the United States just shy of one third of Americans (those who actually voted for someone other than Trump) have a foundation for complaint about Trump at this juncture under the premise that those who do not exercise their right to vote should not complain when their candidate does not win. The flip side of that coin is that just shy of one third of Americans elected Trump under our electoral college system. I can see where that is an equally problematic matter. Then there is Clinton’s win of the popular vote which resulted in renewed calls to absolve the electoral college.
At the end of the day, there appears to be no happy majority here. Just shy of one third of Americans genuinely supported Trump with their vote and are hopeful that he will be a successful president; just shy of one third of Americans did not support Trump and have varying levels of concern about his ability to execute the duties of office; and roughly forty percent of Americans sit somewhere in-between, checked out of the process for some reason, or perhaps they just don’t give a hoot. So, how can Trump “win” in this environment?
Let’s start with Trump supporters – how can Trump “win” with his base? For starters, he is going to need to try and stay true to his campaign promises. I think that will prove difficult. He has already softened his position on a number of fronts – from the wall to Hillary’s prosecution – he noted it post election as typical campaign rhetoric and moved on. He also appears to have recognized that draining the swamp is quite difficult when the vast majority of folks he plans on engaging in his administration either have their feet firmly planted in it or have their hands in the pockets of those with their feet firmly planted in the swamp. But is draining the swamp essential to success? I think, from another vantage point, one might see that there is some value in these swamp creatures – experience, a record of success, an understanding of political inner workings – they may not be all bad.
After all, what really matters to Trump supporters, the truth in his promises on the campaign trail or the result of his actions? I think the sentiment is that the proof is in the pudding and they are hopeful that Trump knows just the right recipe (through cabinet selections and policy) to make their lives better. I guess that is what we all hope for from our national leaders, that they are working to make life better for us – the working folks.
Trump supporters placed a lot of stock in his promises to change their lives for the better. Trump supporters clearly want a country that is more transparent, focused more on America’s needs, and free of political correctness. They want to live in a country where they are more prosperous and their rights are less constrained. If their lives are not better because Trump does not, or cannot, make good on his promises, they will have to face the reality that they were duped by a politician cloaked in businessman’s clothing. That will hurt. Trump engaged a base, that to some extent, had not historically engaged in national elections. A failure by Trump with this group of Americans could result in them checking out of future engagement, and that would be an unfortunate outcome.
How about those who do not support Trump, those who fear for their safety and the well-being of the country given what they have heard and seen from him, how can he “win” with them? Well, that answer seems easy, he just needs to be none of the things he evidenced himself to be on the campaign trail or post-election in his comments to the press or his postings on Twitter. Unfortunately, a good portion of the things that appear to be concerning to those who did not vote for Trump are ingrained personality traits and character failings. Those things are difficult to change, particularly if you do not view them yourself as negative traits. Trump likes himself just the way he is and is not likely to change at this juncture because some Americans aren’t fans. Hence, the odds of a “win” with this group seems fairly remote.
And what about those Americans who were eligible to vote but did not? How can Trump “win” in their estimation? This group of Americans may be Trump’s happy place after he fails to “win” with his base and those who voted against him. Somewhere in-between doing what he promised on the campaign trail and completely abandoning all his campaign rhetoric may be Trump’s sweet spot with this group. But we do not know what a “win” will look like with this group and will not know until presidential approval ratings start rolling in.
What will Trump do once he takes office? I am not sure anyone can predict that, but we already have glimpses based on his cabinet choices, comments, and Tweets post-election. Here is what I think will generally happen: I am fairly sure he will disappoint his base by backing off of many of his campaign promises; I am fairly sure the Republican party will not hesitate to rein him in; and, I know he will learn that he has to operate within the harsh reality of politics as they sit today. I also know he is going to learn a hard lesson about how challenging it can be to further an unpopular agenda when your political allies are few and another congressional vote comes along in two years. After all, the presidency is hardly a blank check to create change. To be able to create change at that level one has to be able to listen to others, build partnerships, and examine issues from all perspectives with an understanding of their complexities and unintended consequences. That is tough to do, particularly when that change has the potential to affect not only groups of Americans and the country as a whole, but also global matters.
For the sake of the United States and all Americans, I hope Trump proves himself to be a responsible, productive, and praise-worthy Commander in Chief. If that is not the case, I hope all Americans with the right to vote will do so in order to exercise their own change. This was never Trump or Clinton’s America, it has always been our America. Do your part today, tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, etc. to engage and make clear your expectations to elected leaders. Provide support to the organizations that protect and advance the rights and efforts near and dear to your heart. Don’t spend energy bemoaning the intractability of what is, spend your energy on building the America you want. Above all else, recognize that we all “win” when we recognize that this is our country and we refuse to accept being disenfranchised.
Another day in the new forty – obla di obla da